Social media turns tide of ocean protection in Brazil

The Trindade-Martin Vaz Archipelago, pictured above, is the largest of the new protected areas in Brazil. (© Flavio Forner)

A recent move by the government of Brazil has created a haven for marine life in an area bigger than France and the United Kingdom — combined.

By establishing two new two marine protected areas (MPAs), Brazil expanded its network of protected waters from 1.5 percent to 24.5 percent of its exclusive economic zone (a country’s coastal waters, to which they claim absolute rights over economic activities and natural resources).

The new protected areas, it seems, have social media to thank.

Together with 37 other organizations, Conservation International (CI) launched a social media campaign, #ItsOceanTime. More than 10,000 supporters signed the petition or recorded video messages in support of the protected areas. More than 25,000 people sent emails to President Michael Temer to create the new MPAs. Brazilian actors, scientists and surfers  also voiced their support for the MPAs.

Totaling 900,000 square kilometers (about 347,491 square miles), the new MPAs include the Trindade-Martin Vaz archipelago and the surrounding underwater mountains, home to a diverse array of algae, sharks, marine turtles, corals and sponges. The new MPAs also encompass the São Pedro and São Paulo archipelago, home to migratory species including Mobula manta rays and whale sharks. The areas won’t be open for any economic activity, ensuring ample space for these vulnerable species to grow and live.

“This was a longtime request from marine scientists in Brazil,” said Rodrigo Medeiros, vice president of Conservation International-Brazil. Medeiros said that this year the Brazilian government started a joint initiative with the Ministries of the Environment and Defense to create the protected areas.

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Brazil is the latest country to announce plans to establish new MPAs this year; Belize, Seychelles, Chile and Canada recently made similar declarations. Despite this momentum, marine conservationists are pushing for more.

“There’s been a boom in the creation of large MPAs worldwide,” Medeiros said. “But they’re protecting large and unexplored areas — which doesn’t mean they aren’t important, but these areas have fewer conflicts because they are far from land and isolated.”

Conservation International CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan, marine biologist Sylvia Earle and conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy said they will collaborate with the Brazilian government on the best ways to plan and manage the protected areas.

“The two remote archipelagos in the MPAs are important seamount chains that are home to unique biodiversity, including threatened and endemic species,” Sanjayan said. “The seafloor of these areas — at depths up to 5,000 meters — remain mostly unexplored. Their conservation will permit future generations the chance to study and sustainably use these areas.”

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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