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Araracanga. Photo: Haroldo Palo Jr.


14 fev 2018

Largest marine reserve in the Atlantic about to be approved

Public hearings this week discuss the creation of Protected Areas that can raise from 1.5% to around 20% the share of protected coastal-marine ecosystems in Brazil

​Trindade Island - Coastal region of Trindade Island, where most endemic species of the Vitoria-Trindade Chain are found. Credit: João Luiz Gasparini​
Last Thursday (Feb 8) a Public Hearing was held at the Espírito Santo State Legislature to debate the creation of Protected Areas (PAs)​ that expand the marine protected areas in the Trindade e Martim Vaz archipelago, around 1000 kilometers East of Vitoria (ES).

The remote location, in the Atlantic Ocean, has been the site of studies by researchers of the Voz da Natureza Environmental Association, the Federal University of Espírito Santo, and other institutions, with support from the Boticário Group Foundation for Nature Protection, revealing discoveries that are extremely important for Brazilian marine life. Last October, the Boticário Group Foundation has held, in a partnership with the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), a seminar to present and discuss proposals for the creation of Marine Protected Areas. “Then, we discussed this and other projects, with the goal of uniting our strengths for Brazil to reach international commitments for the protection of its marine and coastal ecosystems, which seems to be possible. Thanks to the event unfolding, we made this area visible to the eyes of the Government,” says the Coordinator for Science and Conservation at the Boticário Group Foundation, Emerson Oliveira. 

The Vitoria-Trindade Chain is composed of around 30 underwater mounts of volcanic origin, which form a submerged mountain range at the Espírito Santo coast. According to the group of researchers led by Hudson Pinheiro, the reserve would have around 450 thousand square kilometers. The range includes the greatest variety of coral reef species among all Brazilian islands. A total of 270 reef fish species have been recorded – of those, 13 species are endemic (found only there), and 24 are threatened with extinction – one of the highest biodiversity rates among all Atlantic islands. Furthermore, the location has around 140 types of molluscs, 28 of sponges, 87 of open sea fish, 17 of sharks, and 12 of dolphins and whales.

Currently, eight researchers from the project are aboard an expedition that aims to surpass, for the first time, the deepest point reached locally (so far, they have reached 80 meters deep). Below that zone, researchers expect to find species that are distinct from those already seen. “That region can become one of the largest marine reserves in the Atlantic, and a large part of what we know about the region's diversity was discovered through projects supported by the Boticário Group Foundation,” Emerson recounts.

The public hearing is one of the necessary steps for the creation of PAs and is set forth in the Brazilian National System of Protected Areas Protected Areas Act (SNUC). There, different sectors of society with an interest on the topic will be heard, and the studies that support the formalization of the Units will be presented. The expectation is that after the event, the Ministry of the Environment will send the decree minutes for creating the Protected Areas to the Presidency of the Republic, which should happen before late March.

More protected marine areas

Besides the Trindade e Martim Vaz archipelago, another area is also part of the process of creating new marine Protected Areas. The São Pedro and São Paulo archipelagos, located in the central Equatorial Atlantic Ocean, form the smallest and most isolated tropical archipelago in the planet. The islands are rich in biodiversity, with endemic or threatened flora and fauna species, and fulfill a strategic role in establishing and protecting the Brazilian territorial waters. This area is also under discussion, and a public hearing was held this Wednesday (Feb 7) at the Pernambuco State Legislature.

The establishment of new Protected Areas is among the measures necessary to fulfill the Aichi Goals set forth in the Biodiversity Strategic Plan. “One of the commitments, included within Aichi goal 11, is for at least 10% of our marine area to be protected before 2020. Currently, the protected percentage in Brazil is 1.5% and, after these PAs are created, Brazil will surely surpass that goal,” Emerson Oliveira highlights. Information provided by ICMBio further highlights that the Brazilian protected marine areas would encompass around 25% of the exclusive economic zone (ZEE).