Earth Law working to protect oceans in Brazil

Two Brothers Rock - Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Pernambuco, Brazil. (Creative Commons Genérica de Atribución/Compartir-Igual 3.0.)

Two Brothers Rock - Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Pernambuco, Brazil. (Creative Commons Genérica de Atribución/Compartir-Igual 3.0.)

By Antonella Giordano

Earth Law Center and MAPAS have partnered to implement the Earth Law framework for marine protected areas as a way to strengthen protection of Fernando de Noronha Archipelago in Brazil.

Value of and Threats to Brazil’s coastline

Brazil’s coastline is huge, more than 4600 miles long, four times longer than that of California, so a healthy ocean is extremely important in this part of the world. Brazil is ranked 19th in terms of global fish production, meaning the ocean significantly contributes to the country’s tourism, jobs and food. In fact, fisheries for species including bight, sardines, shrimp and tuna, provide jobs for almost 3.5 million Brazilians.

The Ocean Health Index (a collaborative effort on monitoring and evaluating ocean health) rates the country 126 out of the 221 Exclusive Economic Zones, with a national average score of 66 out of 100. With the equivalent of a D-grade, there is much work yet to be done to improve ocean health in Brazil.

Ocean health scores consider ecological, social, economic and political factors by region followed by computer model analysis. A score of 100/100 doesn’t necessarily mean a completely clean ocean, but that produces oxycgen and sustains life. The global average score is 70, with others in the region on par with Brazil: Uruguay (63); French Guiana (72); Argentina (69); and Chile (74).

Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, Brazil. (Creative Commons Atribución 2.0 Genérica)

Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, Brazil. (Creative Commons Atribución 2.0 Genérica)

Fernando de Noronha Archipelago

The Fernando de Noronha Archipelago is located about 360 km offshore from the Brazilian coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands and their surrounding waters (including the nearby Atol das Rocas Biological Reserve) are home to “the largest concentration of tropical seabirds in the Western Atlantic” as well as a breeding place for tuna, shark, sea turtles and the spinner dolphin. The United Nations granted the titles of Biosphere Reserve of the Atlantic Rainforest and World Natural Heritage Site.

Over 20 islands of volcanic origin form the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago. Two protected areas were established in and around the islands: the National Marine Reserve in 1988 (for fauna, flora and natural resources protection) and the Environmental Protected Area in 1986 (reserved for human occupation). Each of these areas has preservation rules established by the federal and the state governments with the aim of preserving natural resources. Protections currently on the archipelago include Projeto TAMAR Fernando de Noronha for the protection and preservation of green sea turtles; the Area of Environmental Protection and the National Marine Park have their own rules protecting the area, such as:

  • Controlled visiting hours and days;

  • Use of licensed vessels and vehicles only;

  • No camping, no overnight stays, no lighting fires on the beaches, no graffiti on rocks, trees or signs;

  • No killing, capturing, chasing or feeding animals,

  • No removal or relocation of shells, corals, rocks, or parts of animals and vegetables,

  • No leaving garbage and debris.

The archipelago is restrictive by design. An average of just 700 tourists can enter per day. A daily preservation tax starts at about USD22 a person a day and rises after 14 days to discourage longer stays. This is in addition to the USD62 fee for a 10 day pass. This means advance bookings of 5-6 months in advance.

Unlike other communities in Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is a State District (the only one in Brazil) rather than a municipality. This means Fernando de Noronha’s entire territory belongs to the federal government, a right established in the Brazilian Constitution. This condition also means that no Fernando de Noronha resident can own the piece of land on which they live and on which they have built their houses. In addition, any construction, renovation or change to any building on the island needs to be approved by the federal government.

So then, the archipelago is administered directly by the State of Pernambuco, where Rights of Nature was added in the local law of Paudalho in 2018. The Governor of the State of Pernambuco appoints the General Administrator of the archipelago. The General Administrator oversees management of the archipelago while representing the State of Pernambuco in Fernando de Noronha.

Unfortunately, all electricity generation draws from fossil fuels, causing concern to the island’s administration along with a desire to change the status quo. Tourism and urban growth displace native terrestrial species along with illegal activities towards the ocean, such as the illegal presence of tourist boats and overfishing. Turtles are particularly affected. Invasive species also stress the islands’ natural habitat as do oil spills in the marine environment

Rights of Nature in Brazil

The Rights of Nature protection in Fernando de Noronha builds on a growing global movement, especially in Latin America. Ecuador for instance, has shown how rights of nature can provide high standards for marine mammal protection, notably sharks and sea turtles.

Brazil’s laws have begun to reflect Rights of Nature perspectives. In Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Congress on Environmental Law adopted Rights of Nature in its World Declaration on the Environment Rule of Law.

Municipal laws recognizing Rights of Nature have been approved in Paudalho and Bonito, both in the State of Pernambuco. Bonito was the first city to do so in Brazil in 2017 with an amendment to Bonito’s municipal law, and it says:

“Art. 236. The Municipality recognizes the right of nature to exist, thrive and evolve, and should act in order to assure all members of the natural community, human and non-human, of the Municipality of Bonito, the right to an ecologically healthy and balanced environment and to the maintenance of ecosystemic processes necessary to good quality of life, being the Public Power, as well as the collectivity, in charge of defending and preserving it for the present and future generations of the members of the earth community. 

In order to ensure this right, the Municipality shall promote the amplification of its public policies in environmental, health, educational and economic areas so as to provide conditions for the establishment of a life in harmony with Nature, and it shall articulate with other state, regional and federal competent bodies, as well as with other municipalities, if it is the case, in order to solve common problems related to the protection of Nature.” 

Additional Rights of Nature proposals are currently being talked of in the city of São Paulo, and others in the State of Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Santa Catarina are all pending. Also, in 2018, the Chamber of the Municipality of Fortaleza, drafted a bill granting the recognition of the Rights of Nature, which is being proposed at the moment. 

Behind many of these efforts, MAPAS ONG can be found. MAPAS is a non-profit non-governmental organization, which since 2004 has been working together with the community and public administration towards conquering quality of life for the individual, for the community and for the Planet. Its Environment and Integral Health's lines of action are coordinated by specialists who act in an interdisciplinary and systemic way to guarantee the conquest of good living in all its dimensions.

How Earth Law can protect the Islands

Earth Law Center works through legal initiatives, education and advocacy to bring about the shift towards rights of nature, and towards adhering to our responsibilities to protect and defend that which nourishes us.

The goal is to implement higher standards for governance in the Archipelago, similar to those of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Such standards can include:

  • limiting industrial fishing, namely for tuna

  • prohibiting harm to sharks and sea turtles

  • limiting economic activities to permanent local residents; and

  • determining tourism levels using environmental impact studies, for example determining the amount of boats that travel between islands. 

Legally adopting the rights of the ocean would help progress Brazil towards its AICHI Strategic goals, including goals to:

  • achieve sustainable fisheries using ecosystem based approaches

  • minimize human pressures on marine ecosystems

  • maintain marine ecosystems integrity and functioning; and

  • conserve 10% of marine areas by 2020

This would represent a big step towards rights of nature in Brazil, and an example for the region as well.

How you can help

More about Earth Law Center

ELC works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. ELC partners cooperate internationally to advance the rights of the ocean, having created the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas to guide implementation.

More about MAPAS

MAPAS has worked towards the recognition of the Rights of Nature in close collaboration with the international movement Harmony with Nature, focused on the United Nations Organization, where the Nature Charter has already been published, promoted by MAPAS and signed by several authorities in Brazil.