Brazil has the richest biodiversity in the world. Its abundant natural resources are both a blessing or a curse when it comes to sustainability.
Brazil, the country of samba, carnival, flip-flops and football is also the country with the richest biodiversity in the world.16 times the size of France and 1.15 time the size of the US if you exclude Alaska. Its dimensions and complexity, both marine and terrestrial, mean that it may never be completely described.
Brazil made efforts towards the preservation of its biodiversity. But what are they? And how do Brazilians perceive sustainability? What can we do as tourists to make sure to keep on seeing the wonderful Brazilian landscapes and nature in the future?
The natural reserves have different statuses in Brazil. Some of them are very well protected, some others allow human activities which can be harmful if not controlled (which happens often in a country where corruption is so heavy)
There are seven main categories of protected areas in Brazil:
- An Area of Environmental Protection: This is a large area with a great population density. It boasts a variety of living, non-living, aesthetic and / or cultural elements and requires protection from damage or demise.
- A Wildlife Sanctuary: As its name implies, this type of facility is designed to protect the environment and its residents so that the natural species can be rehabilitated
- A Biological Reserve: These areas discourage or do not allow direct human contact. Rather, all the natural life within its borders is protected. Initiatives are undertaken to restore the natural ecosystems once in place and to regain balance and biodiversity.
- An Ecological Station: This type of area is specifically designed to host scientific research activities and to protect the natural residents there.
- A National Park: National parks are areas of beauty and attraction to those around them. They are in place to protect a community of fauna and flora within a certain area. However, they are also in place for scientific research and to allow recreational activities and tourism to occur.
- An Area of Considerable Ecological Interest: These areas are usually rather small, but home to some exceptional natural feature(s). These features would add value to the area for their natural uses, beauty or rarity.
- A Sustainable Development Reserve: These areas home traditional populations who rely on the sustainability and availability of the natural resources. These communities become essential to the survival of the fauna and flora of the reserve.
- 2.6% of the territory is being strictly protected
- 5.5% of the territory is being reserved for sustainable development
This means that a total of about 67 million hectares of Brazil are under some sort of conservation, whether managed by the government or other external organizations. [/encart]
This is still VERY little about the size of the country and the huge danger weighting of humanity. The GreenPick will give you a few examples of what we found out investigating and discussing with locals about ecology.
The Amazonia; what’s the status?
The green lung of the planet is shrinking… despite the huge efforts of the NGO. (The Amazon still exists thanks to their efforts). Since 1970, the equivalent of Chili in terms of surface has been cut off – Chili is 1.2 times bigger than France.
We know deforestation might sound like old news to some, but it remains a critical topic. With the decrease of rainforests around the world we also accelerate climate change. While the deforestation slowed down since 2010, it is still ongoing. Most of the time it’s a question of livehood and monetary issues. Some wild deforestation is with the expecation that at some point the government will legalize the illegal plantations , no matter how they created it. Those plantations will mainly be for soya,used primarly as input for animal feeding. Hence ultimately the purpose of meat production, cows, pork and chicken, the ones used so much in the processed food that basically everybody eats soya on a daily basis without really knowing.
The Pantanal; endangered biggest worlwide wetland
The Pantanal is a natural region encompassing the world’s largest tropical wetland area. It is located mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but it extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay.
Roughly 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping to support a dense array of animal species. It has lost almost half of its surface since the 70’s because of farming and deforestation. Why is it dramatic? Because some species like the Pantanal jaguar only live in this area and it has some endemic species that you won’t find anywhere else in the world like the marsh deer or the giant river otter. There are a lot of threats on the Pantanal, from deforestation to overfishing and cattle ranching. About 99% of the Pantanal land is privately owned for the purpose of ranching. It might be that the wet land would totally disappear within a few years. The problem is that the area is not yet well protected and it will still be facing major challenges in the coming years because of projects such as GasBol pipeline construction going through the Pantanal to Bolivia. WWF and other associations are putting pressure on local politics and government to turn this area into a protected area. More recently the Conservancy Nature group has established a valuable partnership with UNESCO, WWF and Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, for the conservation of the Natural World Heritage Sites in Pantanal. But issues and challenges are far from being all solved and the only way to save the Pantanal would be to develop green tourism there to bring money to locals and help save this wonderful land.
The Chapada Diamantina; facing corruption and climate change
This region is in the Bahia and has been devastated by the mining of diamonds for years. This region has been turned into a park in response to ecotourism in the 80’s and mining is now forbidden in the region, to keep the great biodiversity but also to save the pristine sources of water supplying larger cities. We got the chance to visit this amazing national park and we’ve been blown away by the beauty of its waterfalls, forests and landscapes. Compared to the Pantanal, this region has less big animals but is as rich in biodiversity. This region is very important for the water it carries to the ocean-going through major cities like Salvador.
According to Nature Za Econservacao models, by the end of the century rupestrian grasslands might lose up to 95% of the current suitable area (which corresponds to values of about 66,500km2). Grasslands are extremely important because they clean a soil full of aluminum and enrich their composition, creating a richer soil for a very diverse endemic flora to develop. It also improves the soil capacity to hold the water and therefore play an important role in rivers formation. Preserving this region is key but there are many challenges still to be faced.
- Waste management is nonexistent, we’ve seen ourselves the waste not being handled properly and spoiling the landscapes
- Tourism is not yet well maanged; fires, waste, damages to flora etc.; the region needs people to educate tourism and control it.
- Pollution of water because of the floating population and usage of chemicals (soaps, shampoo…).
There is also another issue we have witnessed. In November 2015, a massive fire has burned the Chapada for almost 2 months. The locals told us this fire was criminal. They also confirmed that firemen were involved in not stopping the fire earlier. Basically no one moved and the fire stopped by itself as the local authorities did nothing. Apparently, each year, the government allocates funds to preserve and restore the nature. The budget increases with the number of issues that need to be arranged and enhanced. So the more the Chapada is damaged, the more the government will give money to local authorities to fix the problems. With all the corruption in the country, the natives from the region are sure the Chapada will never benefit from this money which will end in the hands of the wrong persons .
After 5 days trekking in the Chapada, we fell in love with its beauty. Unfortunately, we also noticed a lot of things that would need fast reactions if we want to make sure that the Chapada remains in 10/20 years.
Our guide from Extreme Ecoadventures, Pablo, had studied ecology at Sao Paulo university before becoming a guide so he had a good knowledge about the environment and the different issues the region is facing. For him, locals are left on their own to keep the future of the Chapada and fight against the corruption. He is trying to educate natives to develop more sustainable practices to live better and in respect of the surroundings. Education and sustainable tourism could be the only ways to help preserving this amazing wonder of nature that is the Chapada.
Brazil, the 3rd hydropower in the world
Brazil is the 10th energy consumer in the world. And 83% of its energy come from hydroelectricity which places the country at the 3rd position of hydroelectricity producer. Hydroelectricity is emitting less CO2 of course than fossil based energy. But it has a serious impact on nature and populations. River basins fragmented by dams and polluted by mercury accumulation are public health emergencies that impoverish people’s quality of life. International Rivers, an environmental lobby, is targeting big hydropower funders like the World Bank in hopes to persuade them against dam project financing. Recent controversies have shown the inadequacy of current standards for planning and licensing new dams. Studies for Barra Grande Dam, on the Pelotas River in the Uruguay River basin were shown to be fraudulent in failing to mention that several thousand hectares of primary forests would be flooded.
And even more recently a drama happened, a dam that burst at an iron ore mine in Brazil earlier this month, killing 12 people and polluting an important river, has liberated huge quantities of mud which is toxic, the United Nations’ human rights agency has said.
What about recycling in Brazil?
An interesting thing we saw is the omnipresence of recycling and sorting containers everywhere in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Apparently those have been implemented before the 2014 World Cup. The reason was probably to show an advanced Brazil on top of waste management. But this is not yet the case everywhere. The recycling rate of Brazil is 1% which is very low compared to Mexico (3.3%) or to Colombia (20%). There are no recycling programs locally, and only 6.4% of municipalities have recycling programs. The recycling is still very much managed by waste pickers who earn their life by picking up the plastic and aluminum in the streets.
Water; abundant but polluted
Regarding water, sewage is a major issue. Domestic usage counts for 21% of water withdrawals while irrigation counts for 61%. The chemicals used in the agriculture are washed off by the water and end in the rivers and oceans which also makes the quality of the water quite poor. The deforestation and climate change also impact the future of the water resources of the country. An increase of 2°C will conduct to a loss of 20% to 80% of the Amazonia which because of chain reactions will lead to more floods and droughts and be dramatic for the Brazilians. Water is quite expensive in Brazil and its monitoring is split between regions. Not all states in Brazil are equals for that and even in regions like Southeast where water monitoring is good, because of the pollution down and upstream in the other states, the water remains very polluted. There is very little filtration and water recycling in Brazil, which is a big problem. The only place where you can drink water from rivers in Brazil is probably the Chapada Diamantina were no cities can pollute upstream. So if you travel to Brazil, do not use chemicals or limit as much as you can non-biodegradable products especially toothpaste, shampoos and soaps. And do not flush paper in the toilets. That would be a small hand in a country were water is so important and despite, so wasted.
What’s Brazilian’s attitude towards sustainability?
Brazil’s abundant natural resources are a blessing or a curse, depending on whom you ask – Luke McLeod-Roberts
Ecology and sustainability are not new to Brazil. It has been decades that the entire world is looking at Brazil and criticize their politics about the Amazonia deforestation. Despite that, the government doesn’t do much. Not that they are not aware of the consequences but because corruption at all levels is preventing the country from implementing efficient policies. There is a trend of people asking for more organic product and more vegetarians as well – which is interesting in a country where the meat industry is so big and the average consumption per capita is 93Kg per year (2011). Which is interesting is that it seemed that Brazilians are very much into their health and wellness. Outdoor sports facilities, bicycle lanes, running lanes, proteins shakers in juice shops and even fashion trends around sportswear, that shows a growing interest in health topics which probably explains that in every city we visited, we saw some vegetarians option, not yet vegan options though.
It also seems that there is a clear gap between northern and southern Brazil. Southern Brazil is a step ahead when it comes to sustainability topics. The north is more rural and poorer than the south which could explain the fact that we see a stronger will to develop greener in the south.
To quote an article from the Guardian : “When asked who is responsible for socio-environmental degradation, Brazilians blame the government; when asked who should lead, they point to government once again. Yet it is the government that, since early 2011, has been encouraging deforestation and pollution through the building of mega-dams in the Amazon basin, a petrol rush in the pre-salt ocean layers detrimental to the biofuel industry and tax-break schemes for the car industry without emissions compensations. It is the same government that over the past couple of years has launched an avant-guard solid waste regulation and made concerted efforts with the private sector to curb illegal logging as well as meat and soy trade from deforested areas. Somehow, the apparent lack of direction from politicians, and the inaction of most people, ultimately condenses the conundrum of sustainability within Brazilian society.
So yes, there is a rise in awareness in general if we believe what the locals have told us, but the majority of the population needs seems to lay back when it comes to actions. A lot of them don’t recycle properly or still use the free plastic bags from supermarkets. Even if the attitude towards climate change is real, very few Brazilians are acting. At the image of what the government does, the population is having a mixed behavior towards green behavior. The government won’t do more or change drastically now especially with all the political and economic issues shaking the country at the moment. As tourists, it is also our responsibility to help the country, by picking up the trash when we see it, by talking to people around us and asking questions to tourism and travel facilities and by choosing places that are trying to develop greener. Traveling responsibly can also bring something to a country and a population besides money. Let’s lead the way in showing a green behavior in a country where awareness is not yet turned into actions.
Some places like the Amazon rainforest, the wetlands of Pantanal and the massive grasslands of the Chapada Diamantina have all unique biodiversity.