Brazil is about to make history as its government opens public comments on the establishment of a mosaic of Marine Protected Areas, covering 900,000 sq km, around two archipelagos in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The island groups are biodiversity hotspots and their surrounding waters harbour many vulnerable and endangered species that have been severely depleted by industrial overfishing. These include whales, sharks, sea turtles, fish and an astounding variety of fish.
One is a group of fifteen small islets known as The Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago. It is located in the central equatorial Atlantic, while the other island group, Trindade and Martin Vaz, are farther south, about 1,100 kilometres east of the coast of Espírito Santo, Brazil.
In spite of their distance from the continent, both archipelagos have enormous potential for non-extractive wildlife uses. Their rich submarine habitats could provide world class SCUBA diving, whale watching, bird watching, and other forms of eco-tourism. If protected, the region could give rise to a whole new income generation opportunity with conservation as its umbrella, for as regions of untouched natural beauty become increasingly rare, they will become more and more popular as tourist destinations.
Though Brazil has lagged behind other developing countries in Marine Protected Area coverage, with only 1.5 percent of its jurisdictional waters under protection, the addition of the two archipelagos will make Brazil´s MPA coverage jump to some 21% of its exclusive economic zone, making it a global leader.
The need for the MPAs
The plan for the new MPAs includes proposals for two core no-take areas of approximately 109,000 sq km as "Natural Monuments," where fishing, mining and any extractive activity would be prohibited. In the surrounding multiple-use zones, fishing would be strictly regulated.
However, the coalition of Brazilian environmental NGOs and Tourism sector stakeholders is pushing for the no-take zones to be greatly expanded in order to keep fishing and seabed mining out of as large an area as possible around both archipelagos.
Trawler nets, which scrape everything off the bottom, can be 40 km long and go down to 3000 metres. Oil is now pumped from a depth of 7000 metres, and there are 20,000 oil rigs on the worlds' seas.
Each year we fish ninety million tons of wild fish globally using all of our technology, and half is fished by only one percent of fishing boats—the factory fleets. Eighty percent of global fish stocks have been declared over-exploited or fully exploited, and ninety percent of the biomass of the predators—large fish and sharks—has disappeared. Four hundred marine areas have been declared dead.
The degree of oceanic impoverishment caused The World Conservation Union (IUCN) to call upon national governments, and the non-governmental community, to establish Marine Protected Areas throughout the world in 1988. These are increasingly needed to conserve the planet's marine heritage, and permit the depleted oceanic ecosystems to recover.
There is a growing awareness around the world that many more are needed for better management of coastal and marine environments, and Brazil's initiative is one that other nations could well follow.
Massive international support needed
Brazilian President, Michel Temer, is expected to make a decision in early March, after the public consultation period ends. So now is the time to make your voice heard.
During this period of consultation, letters from individuals, marine scientists and conservation organizations are needed to affirm international support for the new MPAs. As well as congratulating Brazil for the initiative, the recommendation should be made that the no-take zones (or Integral Protection Zones as they are referred to in Brazil), should be greatly expanded around both archipelagos in order to truly safeguard the unique marine biodiversity found there. Their protection will provide a gravely needed refuge from factory fishing where the populations of many depleted marine animals of the Atlantic Ocean can recover.
José Truda Palazzo, Jr., co-founder of Divers for Sharks, said, "This is a truly historic moment for Brazil and massive international support will help to achieve real progress."
Please send your letters to:
Michel Temer, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, gabinetepessoal@presidencia.
Minister Chief of Staff, Eliseu Padilha, email@example.com
Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, firstname.lastname@example.org
Commander of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Ferreira, email@example.com
National Secretary for Biodiversity, José Pedro Costa, firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Consultation Process for São Pedro & São Paulo and Trindade & Martim Vaz Archipelagos, email@example.com
It is a great thing that Brazil is taking this historic step to help the ecologically damaged Atlantic Ocean to heal by providing such large sanctuaries for its inhabitants.