Protection for Brazil's coastal biodiversity

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The IKI supports Brazil with the project 'Integrated coastal zone management and marine biodiversity (TerraMar)'. Photo: Studio Lumix/GIZ

The unique biodiversity of the Brazilian marine and coastal zone is threatened by intensive use, settlement and pollution. Dörte Segebart from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is project manager of the IKI project 'Integrated coastal zone management and marine biodiversity (TerraMar)' and talks in an interview about integrated environmental spatial planning, the involvement of local communities in Brazil and why plastic waste can be a source of income.

The biological diversity of Brazil's coast is unique. However, it is increasingly at risk. What are the most serious threats?

Dörte Segebart: The biodiversity of Brazil's more than 8000 kilometres of coastline is threatened by human activities, such as oil and gas drilling and industrial fishing. But threats also come from the land. The input of chemical water pollution from agriculture, for example from sugar cane, eucalyptus and fruit cultivation, from urban centres (industry and private households) and from deep-shaft and open-cast mining, endanger the sensitive ecosystems and lead to such consequences as mass fish mortality, to name but one. The 2015 disaster in Mariana/Minas Gerais is an example of this. In this case, the dam-burst of a reservoir, containing contaminated sludge from a mining company, poisoned 600 kilometres of the Rio Doce as well as several hundred kilometres of coastline and marine area around the estuary.

Which ecosystems are particularly affected?

Strong erosion processes due to the conversion of forest land into pasture land, especially the deforestation of the gallery woods on the banks, lead to a high sediment load in the rivers. Meaning that, among other things, more sand and mud is carried into the sea, resulting in a devastating effect on the corals, which are additionally threatened by increasing tourism and global climate change. One known effect is coral bleaching, for example. The deforestation of mangroves due to urbanisation processes, especially in the tourism sector, for example in the construction of beach resorts, is also worrying. The expansion of aquaculture, predominantly for conventional shrimp farming, also contributes to the deforestation of mangrove woods as well as severe water pollution.

What is being done about this so far?

Brazil has already placed over 25 per cent of its marine and coastal areas under protection, but often under a relatively low protection status. However, the increasing weakening of environmental institutions and the lifting of existing protection mechanisms and regulations indicate the fragility of the biodiversity policy. 

Your project team is also contributing with support from the International Climate Initiative (IKI). One of the measures is an integrated approach to environmental spatial planning. But just what does that mean in concrete terms?

In order to find solutions to the problems mentioned, different policy fields must be better coordinated and pursue common aims. This requires a decidedly improved cooperation between various institutions. For example, fishing, agricultural and industrial policies need to be coordinated with the targets of environmental policy and aligned with common goals for regional development. The concept of Integrated Coastal Zone Management incorporates these principles. In a pilot region in the south of the state of Pernambuco, for example, the economic activities of the tourism sector were reconciled with those of traditional fishing through the establishment of use zones and regulations in a participatory spatial planning process.

Why is the involvement of the local population so important in the protection of marine and coastal biodiversity?

A large proportion of traditional populations, such as indigenous peoples and local fishing communities, derive their livelihoods directly from the use of the coastal and marine biodiversity and are therefore directly affected by its destruction or pollution. For example, in 2019, an oil slick polluted the coast of Brazil for several months, having an immediate negative impact on animals and plants and subsequently leading to a ban on catching and selling fish products.

The local population could no longer earn an income or ensure their self-sufficiency. They also had no reserves or insurance for this crisis situation. These groups are directly dependent on natural resources, are particularly vulnerable and therefore have a long-term interest in preserving natural resources.

How does the project support these groups?

In order to ensure the long-term conservation of biological diversity, the project focuses not only on protection but also on the sustainable use of natural resources. Groups of traditional users play a central role here. The project supports the participatory preparation of management plans for sustainable fishing in particular coastal and marine protected areas where sustainable use by traditional population groups is permitted. 

One particularly affected group are women who are still struggling for recognition and social security as fisherwomen. Strengthening fisherwomen's networks and supporting them in building up alternative sources of income through further training and the use of digital solutions are therefore also part of the project activities.

The project also works to combat ocean waste, among other things with a pilot project. What approach does this take?

The pilot project "Renda para Catadores" (income for waste collectors) in the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas is about expanding the income opportunities of people who collect waste in the city, but also on beaches and riverbanks. The current focus is on processing plastic waste into pellets and, in a further stage, into recycled plastic products. Waste removal from the environment and thus protection of biological diversity, income generation and environmental education go hand in hand here. The activities also include an analysis of municipal waste management and the regional and national recycling value chain, providing impulses for strengthening them, for waste prevention and for combating ocean waste.

Interview partner

Dörte Segebart

Dörte Segebart from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is project manager of the IKI project 'Integrated coastal zone management and marine biodiversity (TerraMar)'