Southern Atlantic�s Richest Marine Biodiversity under Risk
� Last week, a Brazilian judge annulled the Abrolhos Marine Park Buffer Zone, just one year after is creation. The decision ruled in favor of Caravelas and Nova Vi�osa municipalities, who petitioned the court to eliminate the zone due to economic interests in the region. As a result of losing its protected status, Abrolhos�s rich and unique ecosystems are threatened by activities such as shrimp farms and oil and gas production with environmental impacts. The Abrolhos archipelago, located off the coastal town of Caravelas in the far south of Bahia, northeast Brazil, comprises five islands of volcanic origin
On May 18, 2006, the creation of a Buffer Zone to the Abrolhos National Marine Park was officially decreed by the Brazilian Federal Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA). Under Brazilian law, buffer zones around protected areas require a special permit from environmental authorities for any economic use. Covering an area of nearly 95,000 square kilometers, the buffer zone creation was celebrated by scientists and environmental activists as a great conservation outcome in the region.
In addition to the complex of small islands and coral and algal reefs, the buffer zone included restingas (a uniquely Brazilian ecosystem of sparsely vegetated sand ridges) and mangrove forests that are important nursery areas for Abrolhos� fauna. The protective limitations within the buffer zone caused the opposition of some groups, such as shrimp farmers from COOPEX Cooperative, who have acquired 1,517 hectares of mangrove and restingas and are trying to develop in the area the largest shrimp farm in Brazil.
�It�s important to note that the judge�s decision is about how the buffer zone was created. He concluded that buffer zones must be created by a presidential decree or by a resolution from CONAMA (the Brazilian Environmental Council). In fact, neither the size of the buffer zone nor its limitations were mentioned as problems by the judge,� said Marcello Louren�o, Abrolhos Park manager. �Abrolhos buffer zone limitations were defined after years of discussion with members of the government, NGOs and local communities. They were established based on very detailed studies and assessments of potential impacts of oil spills in the region,� he recalled.
According to Guilherme Dutra, Marine Program Director of Conservation International�Brazil, it�s important to understand marine environment dynamics. �Marine ecosystems are very complex due to the influence of winds, marine currents and other processes. There are numerous species that complete their life cycles in different marine habitats, demonstrating the importance of conservation policies for interdependent ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangroves. That�s why the Abrolhos buffer zone covers around 95,000 square kilometers.�
Despite its importance, the buffer zone has been facing strong opposition from certain political tendencies, related to economic interests in the region. In May 2006, six senators from the states of Bahia and Esp�rito Santo proposed a Legislative Decree to annul the buffer zone. The Decree�s author was Senator Jo�o Batista Motta (PSDB/ES), who has been accused of acting in his own and his family�s interests. According to a report published by a notable Brazilian magazine (Carta Capital), Jo�o Batista Motta, his wife, two of his sons and two of his granddaughters bought a part of the COOPEX shrimp farming project.
Environmental activists expect the Brazilian government to take a stand on this issue and to find the appropriate legal ways to reestablish the buffer zone, in order to ensure Abrolhos� protection. They are also asking for the rapid creation of the Cassurub� Extractive Reserve in Abrolhos� mangroves.
About the Abrolhos Region: At approximately 56,000 square kilometers, Abrolhos is comprised of a mosaic of marine and coastal environments bordered by remnants of Atlantic rainforest, including coral reefs, algae banks, mangroves, beaches and restingas. The region has the largest concentration of coral reefs in the South Atlantic, with various endemic species, including brain coral, crustaceans and mollusks, as well as marine turtles and mammals threatened by extinction. In addition, it is the location preferred by humpback whales for reproduction and nursing their young.
In 2002, the Abrolhos region was declared an area of Extreme Biological Importance by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, based on the Brazilian commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. The first National Marine Park of Brazil was created exactly in this region in 1983, along the islands that compose the Abrolhos Archipelago, where some of the most important colonies of marine birds in the country are encountered.
The area not only holds conservation significance, but its natural resources directly support approximately 20,000 people who are involved in artisanal fishing and tourism, activities that depend on a healthy environment.
About Buffer Zones in Brazil: A buffer zone constitutes "the area surrounding a conservation unit, where human activities are subject to specific norms and restrictions, with the intent of minimizing negative impacts on the unit (law no. 9.985/00 of the National System of Conservation Units).� Human activities proposed for any Buffer Zone have to pass through stringent permitting controlled by the Environmental Institutes at the Federal level.