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Environmental Protection Areas: without management they are just "paper parks”

Atualizado: 8 de mar. de 2023

Illustration adapted from Greenpeace.

Unidades de Conservação (UCs), or Conservation Units in English, are the Brazilian denomination for what is widely known as protected areas. They are legally-protected natural areas essential for the conservation of biodiversity. While these regions protect diverse and fragile ecosystems, they also play an important role for society's well-being; controlled activities for public use can be developed in their space, be they of a scientific, educational or recreational nature.

However, the creation of protected areas alone is not enough to ensure their preservation. It is necessary to manage them effectively in order to conserve the resources therein (see references below for more information on this), which is more or less equivalent to keeping your house in order. Creating conservation units without the foresight of managing them causes countless regional problems. For example, poor implementation can damage the relationship between the local communities and the maintaining institutions (such as the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation - ICMBio and the Forestry Foundation - FF), resulting in regional dissatisfaction and the wearing away of the institutional name and image (see references).

According to a study from 2002, listed below, a large fraction of the conservation units in the world are so-called "paper parks", that is, despite the designation of protected area, no steps were ever actually implemented to properly manage them. In order to eliminate the risks of creating "paper parks" in Brazil, the Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação – SNUC (National System of Conservation Units) was created. SNUC is an established set of official guidelines and procedures specific to different management categories (details of those categories can be found here).

According to the Panorama of Conservation of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems in Brazil (available here), in 2010 there were 222 UCs created in coastal and marine areas, 102 federally managed and 120 state managed. Only 1.57% of the 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean under Brazilian jurisdiction is protected in conservation units. If you include the estimated area included in coastal zones, that percentage rises to 3.14%, or less than a third of the target set by the National Biodiversity Commission (Conabio), which is a commission created with the objective of protecting at least 10% of its marine and coastal area.

Among the entire Brazilian coast, the region of the State of São Paulo is the one that suffers most from anthropogenic actions (changes made by humans), mainly due to real estate pressure. Additionally, the coast of São Paulo is increasingly targeted due to its strategic location in relation to the major industrial centers in the country and the connection with port systems for imports and exports. Oil discoveries in the pre-salt region of the Santos Basin also attract the oil and gas industry and road and railroad enterprises.

Within the State of São Paulo, the municipality of Bertioga is one of the few areas still preserved, even though it is located near urban centers and on the busy Rio - São Paulo axis. This region constitutes an important biological corridor between marine-coastal environments, represented by the restinga and the Serra do Mar, thus forming a continuous area whose protection is fundamental to guarantee the preservation of ecological processes and gene flow. Thus, based on the biological relevance of the area the State Council of Environment - Consema sought to preserve the area in October 2010. After years of discussion and analysis of different proposals submitted by different agencies, a region consisting mostly of the Restinga de Bertioga State Park (PERB) was designated an Area of Relevant Ecological Interest (ARIE). The PERB was officially created by State Decree No. 56,500, December 9, 2010 (more information about the PERB here).

Location of the Restinga de Bertioga State Park. PESM = Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar (Source: Banzato et al., 2012).

In this same year, 2010, I was taking a specialization course in Environmental Management at Senac and needed to do the final paper for my course (TCC). I got together with a group of 3 people from different areas: Barbara Banzato - oceanographer, José Augusto Auroca - sociologist, and Juliana Carbonari - tourism expert, and we had no doubts about which area to study, PERB!

At the time it was necessary to urgently implement integrated environmental management programs that would guarantee the prompt establishment of the PERB and active popular participation in environmental issues, thus avoiding the creation of yet another paper park. Thus, to contribute to the elaboration of the management plan for the UC in question, we conducted an environmental diagnosis of the PERB area and its surroundings through a critical analysis of the current park conditions, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the area and possible threats and opportunities for the park.

We used two methods, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and GUT (Gravity, Urgency and Tendency), to analyze 18 questionnaires obtained through interviews with key people linked to the creation of the PERB. The main advantages of the park as pointed out by the methods were: abundance of natural resources, strategic location of the PERB, mosaic with different UCs, good conservation status of different ecosystems, preservation of the area, research development and ecotourism potential. The most important threats were: proximity to urban centers, lack of infrastructure, influence of a federal highway, hunting, fishing, irregular occupation and uncontrolled tourism.

Left: Itaguaré River mouth - Right: Aerial view of the region.

Photos: Adriana Mattoso. Source

Left: Itaguaré River mouth - Right: Spoonbills in the region's mangrove

Photos: Adriana Mattoso. Source

The work was relevant in two aspects: by representing the first initiative to analyze PERB - pointing out its most critical restrictions and driving forces that can help in the effective management of the park, and by using easy-to-use methodologies to analyze UCs, showing that they can help in effective management (the published work can be obtained here).

Today, doing a quick search on PERB, I saw that they opened earlier this year (2015) two new trails, developing ecotourism practices for recreation and environmental education (information here). I was glad to see that, it seems to me, PERB will not be just another "paper park" .



ARTAZA-BARRIOS, O.H. Análise da Efetividade do Manejo de duas Áreas de Proteção Ambiental do Litoral Sul da Bahia. Revista de Gestão Costeira Integrada, v. 7, n.2, p. 117-128. 2007.

BANZATO, B. M. ; FAVERO, J. M. ; AROUCA, J. A. C. ; CARBONARI, J. H. B. . Análise ambiental de unidades de conservação através dos métodos SWOT e GUT: O caso do Parque Estadual Restinga de Bertioga. Revista Brasileira de Gestão Ambiental, v. 6, p. 38-49, 2012.

FARIA, H.H. Eficácia de gestão de unidades de conservação gerenciadas pelo Instituto Florestal de São Paulo, Brasil. 2004. 401f. Dissertação (Doutorado em Geografia) – Universidade Estadual de São Paulo, 2004.

TERBORGH, J.; SCHAIK, C. V. Por que o mundo necessita de parques? In: Tornando os parques eficientes: estratégias para conservação da natureza nos trópicos. Curitiba: Universidade Federal do Paraná, 2002.

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