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What do the Scores Mean for Brazil?

On April 2, 2014 PLOS One published "A regional-scale ocean health index for Brazil."  The entire Ocean Health Index team is pleased to introduce this first Regional Assessment.  Information on the scores and findings can be found here.

© Luciano Candisani/iLCP

How Could Brazil Use this Information?

This first attempt to assess Brazil’s ocean health in a comprehensive manner provides an important baseline against which future change can be measured.

The results highlight where better data are needed both for calculating the Index and for helping national and state leaders to raise scores by selecting goals to focus efforts on and shaping appropriate policy responses.  

© Paul Nicklen

How Could Brazil Raise Scores?

FOOD RELATED GOALS: Brazil’s Fisheries landings exceed sustainable target levels. Establishing and enforcing stronger catch limits for Brazilian and foreign fleets could rebuild stocks and optimize long-term harvests. Regular monitoring of stocks would reveal such improvement and use of such data would over time improve both the Food Provision score and the Artisanal Fishing Opportunities score, which depends on the availability to catch fish.

The Food Provision score could also be raised by increasing Mariculture in a number of states using species that do not entail mangrove deforestation, erosion, loss of traditional livelihoods or other environmental or social risks. The two states with highest Mariculture scores: Santa Catarina (66) and Paraná (27), had the highest production of farmed bivalves, which cause less environmental impact than growing white-leg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) in ponds carved out from mangrove forests.

NATURAL PRODUCTS: Increasing sustainable harvests of non-food marine resources would increase Brazil’s score.  Other resources may be available beside  those evaluated in the global Index and could be developed and assessed in a regional study. 

HABITAT-RELATED GOALS: Carbon Storage, Coastal Protection and Biodiversity all depend, at least partly, on the extent and health of coastal marine habitats such as mangrove forests, seagrasses, salt marshes and tropical coral reefs. Most states scored well on all those goals, with the exception of Rio Grande do Norte where rapid expansion of shrimp farms has caused high rates of mangrove loss.

PROTECTED AREAS: The extent of protected areas is an important component of the goal score for Lasting Special Places, a sub-goal of Sense of Place, as well as a Resilience factor for a number of other goals. Though 12% of Brazil’s coastal zone (1 km inland and 3 nm offshore) was protected, this is still well below the 30% reference point for Lasting Special Places.  Scores for this sub-goal ranged from 10 for Piauí to 98 for the remote state of Amapá, which almost reached the 30% target. Amapá contains the largest continuous extent of protected areas within Brazil, including representative ecosystems of the Amazonian region and the greatest extent of preserved mangroves in the Americas. Amapá leads the way for other states to preserve areas that are culturally, spiritually, personally or aesthetically meaningful.

Seaward, only 0.35% of Brazil’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, waters out to 200 nm) is designated as protected area, well below the reference target of 10% protection adopted by the Convention of Biological Diversity. Brazil could increase its Lasting Special Places score and others by systematically mapping and monitoring coastal mangroves, seagrasses, saltmarshes and coral reefs and using the data to creating an effective national network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that would boost Index scores but also support other marine zoning and planning efforts.

CLEAN WATERS: Excepting Amapá, most of Brazil’s less developed states scored low because even though their population densities are relatively low, there is often poor access to sanitary waste treatment. Developed and populous states, such São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro scored higher because sanitary facilities are more generally available. 

High scores can be deceptive. For example, the Clean Water score for the state of Rio de Janeiro averages scores for 20 municipalities within that state, including the city of Rio de Janeiro. The score for that state (77) masks the very poor water quality of its famous city. The city’s slums and poor neighborhoods have few sanitary facilities and most waste drains directly into the ocean. It is reported that 70% of the city’s sewage is untreated, producing average levels of fecal pollution 78 times higher than Brazil’s "satisfactory" limit and 195 times higher than the level considered safe in the U.S. Elsewhere in the city, waste treatment systems, trash collection and other infrastructure is scaled to the number of permanent residents, so large seasonal influxes of tourists, storms or other factors may overwhelm them adding further to pollution by pathogens and trash.

Brazil is scheduled to host the 2016 summer Olympics, and the city of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay will host the sailing competitions. Sailors have expressed great concern that floating trash will slow their boats (as has already happened in trials) and that  microbial pollution will harm their health.  Brazil has pledged to decrease pollution by 80% by the start of the Olympics.  

Clearly Brazil has great incentive for improving water quality in Rio de Janeiro not only for the Olympics, but to increase all of the ocean benefits that clean waters support.

TOURISM & RECREATION: Drawn by world-famous beaches and social life, most tourists visit Bahia or Rio de Janeiro, states bordering Brazil’s central coast. Developing the infrastructure needed to support visitors and avoid undesirable social and ecological impacts could spread tourism to other states, particularly in the north where scores are very low, and would improve the score for this goal as well as that for Livelihoods & Economies.