Once a hideout for pirates, Ilha Grande, Brazil, the largest island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, is today a highly regarded and well-preserved travel destination with designated protected areas covering 80 percent of its 193 square kilometres.
The island is a true haven for biological and ecological diversity and much of the credit for the maintenance of its conservation areas is attributed to the relentless work of the Defence Committee of Ilha Grande (CODIG). This non-profit organisation began in the year 2000 and has since been fighting for the preservation of Ilha Grande’s ecological integrity and fending off the interests of those seeking capital gains from the use of Ilha Grande’s restricted areas for real estate and private-sector expansion.
Eradicating Sun Coral
One project near and dear to the people of Ilha Grande is the eradication of an invasive species of sun coral (Tubastraea spp.) introduced in the late 1980s by oil and gas platforms. It has since overrun 900 kilometres of the rocky shoreline. The CODIG, with the support of other organisations, has partnered with the Projeto Coral-Sol with the goal to eliminate this non-native species in the next 20 years.
Sun coral is currently found along the coastlines of six counties with a combined population of 6.3 million people. The fear is that the rapid reproductive properties of the coral could see it spreading into deeper waters and on to the Brazilian coral reefs. Given the fragile nature of these reefs, the impact could be devastatingly irreversible – not only for the endemic reefs, but also for thousands of Brazilians that rely on the unique ecosystem for income and food.
To combat this expansion, and since coral is a popular house decoration, the Projeto Coral-Sol has started encouraging the sale of sun coral as a souvenir in the bay area around Ilha Grande. Throughout the region, popularising the harvest of sun coral is also seen as a means of competing against trade in native and endemic species. With that in mind, education and training efforts are now instructing local people how to substitute nonnative sun coral for the protected native species.
The project is targeting traditional coastal communities from Ilha Grande, including Caiçaras, whose major vocation is the extraction of marine resources. As a consequence of declining fish stocks, these local communities place great value on new and sustainable income-generating opportunities that also help to preserve the environment. Presently, over 40 families are receiving instruction in how to collect and prepare sun coral for sale. It is expected that one family will initially be able to earn an additional income of at least 240.00 Brazilian Reals (approximately US$150) per month.
The combined positive outcomes of eradicating an invasive species, developing new livelihood opportunities for local people and reducing the sale of endemic coral make this a noteworthy project, one that is shaping up to be the first self-sustaining initiative for the removal of exotic marine organisms in Brazil.
Protecting a Green Treasure
Another CODIG undertaking that is working its way through the Brazilian courts is a major effort to forestall the slackening of environmental protection regulations not only on Ilha Grande, but in 93 other islands and along a generous portion of the Emerald Coast. The fight is against a new Decree 41.921 that would allow for the commercial development of land throughout these now highly protected reserves.
After syndication of a petition against the development, CODIG now has more than 8,500 signatures to present to the courts as proof that citizens will not sit idly by while national heritage is bulldozed. One can only hope that the preservation of this pristine island can win out against the interests of those seeking to ‘develop’ it.