Monday 9th February, Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará in the NE of Brazil.
I was part of a delegation from Prainha Do Canto Verde, invited on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, to take part in a debate about the implementation of Marine Protected Areas. The debate was part of the Greenpeace campaign Salvar O Planeta (Save the Planet). É Agora Ou Agora (It’s Now Or Now).
I was immensely pleased to have been invited. I have been a supporter of Greenpeace since I was in school in the 1970’s, when I am proud to say I did fundraising for them, sponsored swims and so on, to raise money for their Save the Whale campaign. It was an important lesson for me, that as an individual I was powerless to prevent the whales from being hunted to extinction, but as one individual amongst many thousands of like minded people, we helped Greenpeace achieve what had seemed impossible, we / they did indeed Save the Whale.
We were given a short tour of the boat and told a little of its history. The Arctic Sunrise is a round hulled ice breaker, she had previously been used as a whaling ship until Greenpeace bought her at an auction, some poetic justice there.
Below decks where the debate was to take place, I couldn’t help but think how cold it must be on board when the ship is in arctic waters. The underside of the deck was covered in a thick layer of foam, the sort that can be sprayed on and is used in cavity insulation. The metal hand rails on the stairs were wrapped round with twine but there was still a lot of exposed metal that must become freezing to the touch. Thankfully there was very efficient air conditioning, without it I imagine that in these tropical waters, the boat would be like a furnace.
The beginning of the debate was delayed as Dr. Paulo Maier from the newly formed ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute) who are responsible for the conservation of Brazils natural resources, had not arrived. I couldn’t help but find this somewhat ironic, when ever the fishermen reported illegal fishing activity to IBAMA (who previous to the creation of ICMBio, were responsible for conservation), it would take so long for them to arrive that the illegal boats would have left the area. When Dr. Paulo Maier arrived, the debate began.
Leandra Gonçalves from Greenpeace presented a short film called O mar é nosso? (The sea is ours?) and then spoke of the situation with regards to MPA’s in Brazil.
Brazil has 8698 kilometres of coastline. Only 0.4% of it is protected (most of those protected areas are on paper only.) which is dramatically lower than the world average of 1%, which is still far too low to allow for fish stocks to recuperate.
80% of Brazil’s principal stocks are under threat.
René Schärer my neighbour in Prainha and founding member of Instituto TERRAMAR, spoke of the history of the call for a MPA along our part of coast line, starting in the early 1990’s with the voyage SOS Sobrivivencia to Rio De Janeiro. As René pointed out, the call for the reserve came from the fishermen themselves, the process has been long and well worked through, involving the communities that will be included in every step of the process.
After much struggle TERREMAR got the government to agree to tighter control over the lobster fisheries, the promised patrols of the sea did take place and the illegal fishers found it hard to put to sea. Then the patrols suddenly stopped, the illegal fishers returned and the situation was worse than it had been before. There needs to be much greater political will to enforce the existing regulations, without the necessary controls, René fears the creation of an MPA is less than useless.
Another neighbour, José Alberto Ribeiro de Lima from MONAPE (the national movement of fishermen), further reiterated the importance of the MPA and the participation of the communities within its area.
We then heard from Alberto Campos from AQUASIS, on the actual situation and the demands for the creation of an MPA on the east coast.
I have to admit that by this time I was finding it a little difficult to concentrate. The crew of the boat had closed the door to the deck in order to improve the air-conditioning, the screen on which we were watching the slide shows, was rippling from side to side in the breeze from the air-conditioning and the boat was doing a slow rock from side to side against the quay, I was somewhere between feeling dizzy and wanting to fall asleep, my ability such as it is, to understand the Portuguese language was rapidly deserting me.
Dr. Paulo Maier informed us that he is newly appointed to ICMBIO and that there is a great deal of work that needs to be done within the organisation just to get it running properly. He spoke at some length about things that fishermen sitting next to me said had nothing to do with MPA’s. He said the government is committed to the creation of MPA’s but called on every one to be patient, at which point I almost laughed except that it really isn’t funny.
Leandra Gonçalves thanked him for coming to speak to us but said that it wasn’t really a question of us needing to be patient but rather could we expect the sea to be. Quite clearly the sea cannot wait any longer, the situation is desperate.
On Friday René informed me that the government had announced budget cuts, amongst the areas to be affected were MPA’s. He said the situation isn’t completely bleak, Dr. Paulo Maier has agreed to come here in March for a meeting with a representative from SEAP (Ministry for Fisheries and Aquaculture) and TERRAMAR. Much of the necessary work for the creation of an MPA has already been carried out for the proposed MPA in our area, Rene hopes this will enable the MPA to be implemented despite the budget cuts but as he stated in the meeting, if the controls are not there to keep the illegal fishers out, the MPA doesn’t stand a chance.
It would appear that the implementation of MPA’s in Brazil is another almost impossible cause, but one on which we ALL depend. I hope that with the involvement of Greenpeace, the Brazilian government will approve the MPA here and create many others. If not, then one other species will have to be added to the already long list of species threatened with extinction, that of Artinasal Pescador, small scale fisherman.
What will the Brazilian government do when they are faced with millions of unemployed fishermen?
As Leandra Gonçalves pointed out, the degradation of the seas is a world wide problem and something we ignore at our peril. The sea is not ours, we are of it and our lives depend on it.
©Claire Pattison Valente 2009