News from Fernando Part II

Oceangybe
A beautiful Brazilian national park island.Hugh taking it all in.

The Archipelago of Fernando De Noronha lies about 340km due east from mainland Brazil. Rising steeply out of the ocean depths, these 21 volcanic islands are the direct result of an oceanic hot spot. A hot spot is a localized area of intense magmatic/volcanic activity just below the earth’s crust. When the heat becomes too intense, the hot spot will break through the earth’s crust and spout magma and lava into our oceans creating an island in the process. Once the pressure has been released, the lava will cool and once again choke the gap in the earth’s crust, allowing the island to cool and become stable. As the oceanic tectonic plates move, this process will be repeated creating a chain of islands making the movement of the plate over the centuries. Look at the Hawaiian Islands as a perfect example.

Local juice kept our thirst quenched in between learning about the island ecology.

The beauty and unique fauna and flora of Fernando de Noronha inspired the Brazilian government to declare it a National Marine Park in 1988. In 2001, UNESCO furthered the protected status by declaring the islands a World Heritage Site. Each year the number of visitors to the island is heavily regulated with never more than 500 allowed on the island and each is required to pay a daily fee to help maintain the facilities on the island. Not all of the island is park, but the local inhabitants have created their own set of rules to keep their island paradise just that … paradise. They live on approximately 50% of the main island, but it has been designated that only 30% of their section may be developed. The effect of this legislation has made it impossible for any large hotel chains or resort developments that plague paradisical islands the world over. Instead, visitors stay in local “posadas” or guest-houses with the owners. Small and unassuming these lodgings do not cover the coast and tower over the best beaches on the island, but are rather located up in the hills and everyone is forced to walk to the beach through the endemic flora. Beautiful …

Traditionally, fishing catches also included turtles but now the locals help protect them.

The local park administration has been extremely welcoming to the OceanGybe team. Over the past few days, we have been wandering waist-deep through the only island-based mangrove in the South Atlantic, walking kilometers of empty beach picking up garbage with paying volunteers (!), tagging hawksbill and green turtles, and learning about all the conservation efforts on-going in the archipelago. One of the major players in the conservation efforts on the island is the TAMAR Project, as mentioned in the last blog, and they are the most organized, efficient and forward-thinking conservation group I have come across. Their motive is to save and protect turtles, turtle breeding areas, and beaches on which turtles lay eggs. They currently protect 1,100km of Brazilian coastline under the supervision of 22 research stations. They perform all the necessary scientific research to investigate the effects of turtle decline worldwide, including mapping migratory paths, breeding patterns, effects of human occupation, etc and have created co-operative links with almost every major environmental group worldwide to ensure they stay current and up-to-date. However, the difference that struck me about the TAMAR project, was not their research but the methods by which they gain traction within the community.

An awesome walk along the beaches that doubled as a trash clean-up.

Traditionally, turtle meat was a form of sustenance to the local population of Fernando (much like the rest of the world) and fishermen would hunt the turtles and their eggs to put food on the table. When TAMAR came to the islands to protect the turtles, one would expect there to be huge clashes and conflict over the new protected status of the turtles. However, TAMAR strives to create a community-run program and does not just tell fisherman not to catch turtles but rather creates other jobs for them within the program so they can assist in the protection of the marine habitat and also still generate incoming. Look it up online at www.projectotamar.org.br. According to the experts, one of the most significant causes of turtle deaths is due to misidentification of plastic bags as jellyfish, ie a food source, by turtles.

Sorting and categorizing trash after our long walk and beach-clean.

The OceanGybe team feels honoured to be allowed to stay on the island, and each morning as we head out for an early morning surf in the vividly blue crystalline water, we are accompanied by spinner dolphins and turtles curious to see what this humans are up to today.

View from the top.Chilling on deck between forays ashore.
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