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CODIG: Countering Invasive Coral in Ilha Grande, Brazil

  • Maureen Valentine
  • 14 April 2011

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.

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The picturesque coast of Ilha Grande, Brazil, draws visitors from all over the world. Through CODIG (Defence Committee of Ilha Grande), travellers can help protect the island from invasive sun coral species and lax development legislation that threaten it. Photo courtesy of Nélio Ricardo

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.

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Sun coral is not native to Ilha Grande, Brazil. Because of its rapid reproductive capabilities, this species could spread into endemic reefs and tip the balance against these fragile and unique ecosystems. Photo courtesy of Franklin Samir Dattein/wikimedia

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.

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An arial shot of Ilha Grande, Brazil, emphasises the deep greens and blues of its natural landscape. CODIG (Defence Committee of Ilha Grande) is actively working toward the preservation of this piece of ecological and national heritage in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Nélio Ricardo

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.

Ilha Grande is fortunate to have the CODIG on its side and its best interest at heart. If you are travelling to see the beauty of Ilha Grande, be sure to contact your whl.travel local connection and CODIG member Nélio Ricardo of Ilhagrande Adventure Travel and Tourism. He knows all the best local accommodations, trekking adventures, boat tours and ways to contribute to the sustainability of Brazil’s favourite island!

If you would like to become directly involved with the CODIG, the annual membership fee is 120 BRL (about US$76). Nélio can fill you in on all the details about how this helps protect Ilha Grande.

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Maureen Valentine

Maureen Valentine graduated from North Carolina State University in 2007 with a major in Animal Science and has since been travelling and living in various locales around the world. She is currently based out of Hanoi, Vietnam and has been working with the WHL Group for more than a year.
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beaches, Brazil, islands, marine conservation, oceans & reefs, responsible travel, South America, whl.travel,

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