On the Ground with CI-Brazil

In my last post, I left you all while sitting in the Dulles airport waiting for the flight to Rio, which I dutifully caught, arriving in Rio de Janeiro to see Fabio Scarano, the director of CI-Brazil, waiting outside customs. In true Brazilian fashion, we decided to talk about collaboration between the Science + Knowledge division at CI Headquarters and the Brazil program over lunch. It seemed everywhere we went, Fabio knew everybody, either from work, growing up, or most importantly, from his Saturday football team.

The Brazilian churrascaria was spectacular, but this was more than lunch—in about an hour and a half we sketched out four or five topics to work on together. A possible collaboration with Petrobras, the Brazilian oil and gas giant; work with Coca-Cola on freshwater conservation; marine spatial planning and sustainable seafood in Bahia; freshwater fisheries conservation in the Amazon. All of these we would continue to discuss over the next week.

The next day, Fabio, Paula Ceotto from the CI office and I went to meet with the environment group at Petrobras. So far, they have only really engaged in small conservation projects. Our interest is engaging them more broadly in a strategy for marine conservation, given the rapid growth of ocean oil and gas development in Brazil.

With huge, newly discovered “pre-salt” oil deposits off the coast, ensuring that conservation actions can reduce environmental risks from oil and gas development is crucial. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is on everyone’s mind in the oil and gas industry as well as conservation organizations. Furthermore, the industry needs to ensure that conflicts with other important ocean activities such as fishing and local community livelihoods are minimized, and that the marine ecosystems of coastal Brazil continue to maintain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions that are so important all along the coast. To all of this, the environment group at Petrobras is receptive, but the real test will be with the production division. CI has a lot to offer, with a very strong country program led by Fabio, a highly respected scientist with an excellent track record working with industry, and an outstanding marine program in Bahia that I was soon off to visit.

Flying the next day to Porto Seguro, I was met by Rodrigo Moura, a marine biologist working on marine protected areas and community based conservation in the state of Bahia. Off to another lunch with a larger group of CI staff, and then we set out for Corumbao, a fishing village next to the large marine reserve where Rodrigo, Guilherme Dutra and their colleagues have been working for years.

The village was across from a boat landing. There were no motorized vehicles in the village, so we were sculled across the estuary, and then walked across the peninsula to our pousada (hotel) on the beach. Our luggage was taken by the only taxi available—a very nice mule cart. No cars or motorbikes, only the sounds of the sea and the big party the village was having to celebrate the 10th birthday of the marine reserve. This was truly conservation in action, with fishermen doing skits, songs and poems about how fishing has improved and village life has gotten better because of the reserve. This is more than just talk about marine protected areas—these are the people that live through them.

A morning swim to clear our heads and a walk around the village, then back to the boats and a long drive to Carevelas and the CI office. Through the countryside we had a chance to see the remaining Atlantic Forest, and the encroachment of eucalyptus plantations along the ridge tops, essentially forming a green desert since not much else can live in the eucalyptus. While the native forest is complex and diverse, the eucalyptus looks like giant grass planted in straight lines.

More soon as I continue on my travels.

Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is Senior Vice President for CI’s Science and Knowledge division.

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