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Home » Why the last reserve in the Amazon still hasn’t got off the ground after four years

Why the last reserve in the Amazon still hasn’t got off the ground after four years

  • Created in 2018, the Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi Extractive Reserve is still waiting for a management plan and the creation of a council of representatives of local communities.
  • While the Resex is still on paper, the riverside people see the river they depend on for their livelihoods being plundered by predatory fishing.
  • With the red light of ignored laws and justice, two iconic species at risk of local extinction — the Amazonian tortoise and the pirarucu — find their lifeline in community projects.

June 5, 2018. After two decades of appeals for its approval, Decree 9,401 is finally signed, which establishes the Extractive Reserve (Resex) Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi, on the border between the states of Amazonas and Roraima, 500 km from the boat from Manaus.

Residents of the region are finally starting to believe in environmental legislation that will safeguard their subsistence in the midst of standing forests and fishy rivers.

Four years after its homologation by the Ministry of the Environment, however, the last Conservation Unit constituted in the Amazon has not yet left the drawing board and is deteriorating along with the confidence of the riverside inhabitants in the effectiveness of the law.

The area of ​​581,173 hectares (almost four times the size of the city of São Paulo) has not yet formed its deliberative council, whose main attribution is to approve the management plan.

Provided for in Law 9985, the document is essential to establish the set of measures and projects that the community understands as adequate for the sustainable use of the natural resources of the Resex.

Within the Resex Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi there are 15 villages and an estimated number of 200 families, which corresponds to a population of 600 residents, whose main economic activity is handicrafts. 

For the creation of the deliberative council, it is necessary to bring together representatives of all communities and public bodies in an inaugural assembly, which will then meet periodically to discuss and implement the management plan.

The law is clear, but it does not identify where the resources will come from to transport, in the real world, residents who live several hours, often days, away and where the only means of transport are private vessels whose fuel, expensive, is an article luxurious.

The Mongabay reporter was at Resex and had a good idea of ​​the difficulties in creating the deliberative council without state support. It took seven days to travel across the river to cover 120 km and visit just four communities on the reserve.

predatory fishing

While the Resex is still on paper, the riverside people see the river on which they depend for their livelihoods being systematically looted. 

A tributary of the Rio Negro, the Jauaperi was once full of arapaima, peacock bass, manatees, turtles, and many other species of animals, but today it is gradually succumbing to the predation of the Amazonian fauna.

In 2001, the same year that riverside people from the region made the first request for the creation of the Resex, the invasion of vessels coming from the cities of Manaus and Novo Airão, both in the Amazon, added to the predatory fishing carried out by fishermen from the local communities, already reduced fish in the Jauaperi River to alarming numbers.

Reports from riverside dwellers indicated constant activity by the so-called “geleiros” (fishing boats with a high capacity for storing fish on ice), which use trawls. 

Extended from one bank to the other, the nets closed the riverbed and captured all the aquatic fauna, leaving entire families without their food base.

“Overfishing took place in and around our communities. Fish that had no commercial value were discarded and washed up dead on the beaches. 

Terrible scenes like this strengthened our will to see the agreement approved,” says Francisco Parede de Lima, president of the Associação dos Artesãos do Rio Jauaperi (AARJ), an entity created in 2004 to promote handicrafts as a sustainable way of living from the forest.

The agreement mentioned by Francisco is an instrument of legal value regulated by Ibama through Normative Instruction 29/2002, which facilitates participatory management by society in preserving the environment. 

In Jauaperi, it was sealed in 2005, when local community groups proposed to traditional fishermen and associations of commercial fishermen that they formally commit to cease activities until the consolidated recovery of the fish stock. 

As the amount of fish in the river was in fact very low at the time, the fishermen signed the pact.

The agreement would be valid for three years, during which time only subsistence fishing would be allowed in the region. At the end of the term, a scientific study was scheduled under the responsibility of Ibama to attest to the recovery of fish stocks. It was not, however, what happened.

As soon as the river showed signs of improvement, ice boats reappeared on the Jauaperi River. “It was the people inside who started illegal fishing in the first year of the agreement and opened the door for outside fishermen to break the pact”, says Francisco.

After the initial validity of the agreement expired, and without Ibama’s interest in carrying out the research and supervising its compliance (alleging lack of resources), a local court injunction in September 2009 prohibited commercial, ornamental, and sport fishing (with the exception of subsistence fishing).

The decision imposed a fine of BRL 1,500.00 on violators, but there are no records that it was ever applied.

The embargo affected a 120 km stretch of the Jauaperi River, from its mouth on the Negro River to the last community, on the borders with the Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Land, a unit neighboring the current Resex that also depends on the river for its subsistence and whose residents had voted in favor of the agreement.

Eight years later, the preliminary decision was upheld in the judgment on the merits of the federal judge Jaiza Fraxe, handed down in August 2017. which has not happened until today. 

There was also an appeal against the decision, which is still pending judgment in court.

Despite the favorable judicial decision having removed most of the glaciers that came from Manaus, the predatory fishing of large quantities of fish and turtles carried out by some fishermen from the region itself and from boats from Novo Airão and Barcelos continues to disrespect the law and squander the river to this day. According to Paul Clark, vice president of the AARJ, a single vessel can remove five tons of fish in just one week, eagerly absorbed in the region’s clandestine markets.

There are at least 17 years, therefore, of non-compliance in the real world with what the laws, the agreement and the judicial decisions make very clear on paper: to recover the desolate situation resulting from overfishing in the Jauaperi River, only subsistence fishing should be allowed .

The fact that many of the illegal fishermen are people close to the residents of the communities, sometimes neighbors and even relatives, weighs on the difficulty of complying with the law. 

This inhibits complaints. In addition, the few complaints that end up reaching the ICMBio of Novo Airão — which has a single boat to serve two National Parks and two Resex — are almost never investigated. When they are, they do not usually generate punishment and, when they do, they are not usually executed.

The report had access to an infraction notice registered by Ibama in 2011 that seized 900 kg of fish in the Community of Itaquera, 60 gill nets (fishing nets), eight spears (fishing instrument) and four tails (motor boat). As reported by local residents, the fine relating to this inspection was never paid.

“In the many years that I’ve been here, I’ve only seen one inspection that had an effect. Even so, in a short time everything went back to the way it was before because blitzes are infrequent and nobody believes in punishment”, laments Francisco.

Turtles and Pirarucus

With the red light of ignored laws and justice, two iconic species at risk of local extinction — the Amazonian turtle and the pirarucu — find their lifeline in works spearheaded by the AARJ.

The Bicho de Casco project came out of the activism of Scotsman Paul Clark, who took on the mission of engaging riverside dwellers in the struggle to preserve the environment and their food base since he settled in Jauaperi with his Italian wife, Bianca Bencivenni, approximately 30 years ago. years old. 

In addition to teaching literacy and environmental education to children in local schools, since 2003 they have started to preserve Amazonian turtle ( Podocnemis expansa ) nesting beaches.

The objective is to protect the species from the action of wild animal traffickers, collecting the eggs to hatch for 90 days in sand boxes placed in a safe place until the hatchlings are released, as soon as their carapaces are hard enough to be reintroduced into nature. 

Currently, six communities are mobilized on a total of seven beaches on the Jauaperi River, training volunteers who receive 4 reais (funded by private donations) for each turtle released, in an attempt to create an economic stimulus.

“After the work started, I see small chelonians that I didn’t see before. I hope that in five years he recovers well”, says João Soares (Seu João), who lives in an isolated house in Marrau, the last place on the Resex before the territory of the Waimiri Atroari, with whom he is a neighbor and friend. 

Without State supervision, the way is to appeal for the help of the indigenous people: “If the turtles [traffickers] show up, I call the chief and they come here to defend us”.

Each year, around three thousand turtles are protected and returned to the Jauaperi River. 

But this apparently high number hides a population reduced by the actions of traffickers, who pillage the spawning grounds and even sell an adult turtle for around a thousand reais in the clandestine markets of Novo Airão and Manaus.

“At present, ninety percent of predation, including turtle trafficking and illegal fishing, happens through river dwellers. 

Our challenge is to reach these people and convince them of our cause”, reveals Paul, one of the founders of Resex and a personal friend of Seu João.

According to the professor and environmentalist, who is also a founding partner and current vice-president of the AARJ, political issues are the main obstacle to the effectiveness of the Resex.

“The local ICMBio collaborates a lot with us, but it has funding problems coming from higher levels and is unable to fulfill its duty”, says Francisco. 

“After four years, we are struggling to form the deliberative council. There is a lack of resources and political will.” When contacted by the report, ICMBio did not respond.

Another important AARJ project is the management of the pirarucu ( Arapaima gigas ), the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, which is threatened with extinction. 

The program was launched recently in the Samaúma community and has the support and training of the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Institute and the Rio Unini Extractive Reserve, where community members participate in similar projects with relative success.

The proposal came from a petition after resident Orlandina Peres de Menezes was caught and offended by illegal fishermen from neighboring communities. 

Then, the request was sent to the local ICMBio, which recognized and authorized the project even without the Resex management plan required by the law.

To ensure sustainable management, it is necessary to zoning the lakes (as the fishing areas in the river are called) and monitoring the number of fish. 

The next step is counting, which is done to identify juvenile and adult arapaima (over 1.5 meters) and record them on a form. Finally, catch quotas are defined, which can reach up to 30% of the population, based on the annual assessment of the fish stock.

“We started in August with four community members working on guarding the protected lakes”, says Divina Menezes, president of the Samaúma community association and daughter of Dona Orlandina.

“The perspective is that more resources will come in and that in the future we will have a return, but we need supervision from ICMBio, from whom we also expect the project signage to be sent and the start of the first workshops to establish the deliberative council, promised for September .”

Two other projects, however, are still on hold.

The first deals with the reuse of dead wood left over from the unprecedented fire of 2016, which burned large areas within the reserve. The idea is to use the remains of trees in the construction of houses and in sustainable crafts promoted by the AARJ. Made in 2019, the request has yet to receive a response from ICMBio.

The second is in the operational capacity study phase and has the objective of building a mini plant to process pracaxi seed ( Pentaclethra macroloba ), whose oil is used in facial cosmetic creams. The expectation, if the project gets off the ground, is also to benefit the nut and generate income with fair prices, breaking the relationship with middlemen.

“Our goal is to create 100 jobs and have an adult population with sustainable income that guarantees the inflow of money to deter predatory activity”, says Paul Clark.

With their feet on the ground and many plans in mind, Paul Clark and Francisco Parede are attached to the activism they are instilling in the community in order to be able to dream of a real and sustainable Extractive Reserve, which effectively changes the commercial relationship with the Amazon rainforest.

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