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Brazil : Fernando de Noronha


Fernando de Noronha  is an archipelago of 21 islands, islets and rocky outcrops in the Atlantic Ocean, 545 km away from the coast of the Brazilian State of Pernambuco. These islands are formed of the peaks of a submerged mountain chain, part of the South Atlantic submarine ridge which rises 4,000m from the ocean bed. Noronha has an administrator, appointed by the Governor of Pernambuco, and doesn't have an autonomous Legislative House (as have all the municipalities in Brazil). Thus, Noronha doesn't have a capital but because it is the largest village in the island, Vila dos Remédios is considered the unofficial capital. The main island has an area of 18.4 sq km and had a population of 3,012 in 2010. Most of the original vegetation was cut down in the 19th century, when the island was used as a prison, to keep the prisoners from hiding and making rafts. In 1988 approximately 70% of the archipelago became a National Marine Park and in 2001 Fernando de Noronha was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

A diesel power plant with a total capacity of 3 MW has been the main source of electricity generation for Fernando de Noronha. However, the use of wind energy started in 1992 with the installation of a 75kW wind turbine to the grid. In 2000, the Brazilian Wind Energy Centre (CBEE) and Brazilian Regulatory Agency for Electricity (ANEEL) installed a second wind turbine rated 225kW. The challenge of this phase was to achieve monthly averages of 25% wind penetration while ensuring reliable supply and good power quality. At the time this wind/diesel hybrid power system    was the largest operating in Latin America.

In 2009, the Energy Company of Pernambuco (Celpe), a subsidiary of the Neoenergia Group, promoted the substitution of electric showers in tourist inns with a solar heating system and donated energy efficient refrigerators to low income families the following year. In 2012, Celpe is to install a 400 kW peak solar photovoltaic system within a Brazilian Air Force base on Fernando de Noronha, under an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). The system with an expected output of 600 MWh per year – about 6% of the island’s electrical energy demand – will be piloted for a year to identify failures or points to be improved. In addition, Celpe will be making several public buildings more energy efficient by installing new LED lighting systems. Celpe will also be piloting smart grids on the archipelago. This 3-year research and development project has an investment of US $9 million that joins technologies in the areas of telecommunications, metering, information technology and automation. The benefits expected are remote control of almost all processes, as well as faster identification and correction of system faults. At the same time Celpe is investing a further US $0.9 million to develop a control system that will manage multiple sources of alternative energy generation on the islands.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

It is often officially stated that refuse is sorted at the point of collection for composting or for shipment off the island to be deposited at landfills in Recife, but the reality is somewhat different. Whilst some up market inn owners undertake comprehensive recycling activities this photojournalist report reveals a waste site covered with hundreds of large garbage bags just emitting gas and liquid contaminates close to a beach. There is no proper selective waste collection service and contracts to secure a suitably sized vessel to regularly ship waste to the mainland have been subject to legal wrangling for years. A television programme  and local blog site  have also reported on slum areas around the island where shortage of housing has exacerbated the problems of waste management. However, it is understood that following this adverse media coverage various improvements have now been made to the collection, separation and recycling of trash.

Water Management & Security

Fernando de Noronha is supplied in domestic water by two reservoirs, one rainwater collecting system and another system using seawater desalination. In addition, this island is supplied by water from six secondary artificial ponds and some wells and springs. Up until recently the island endured a water supply problem particularly during the summer drought time that resulted in rationing and threatened the tourism industry. However, the introduction of a new treatment facility at the desalination plant has tripled the previous 5.6 litres of drinking water per second to 15 thus guaranteeing a daily supply without impact on the storage level at Xareu Dam.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

There is little agriculture on the island although Pousada Teju-acu maintains a small organic farm and has its own fruit trees whilst Pousada Ze Maria practice hydroponics cultivation to grow lettuce, tomatoes and herbs, which are served to guests.


The local population and travellers get to Noronha by plane or cruise from Recife (545 km) or by plane from Natal (360 km). A small environmental preservation tax is charged from tourists upon arrival by Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) There is only one circuitous road on the main island that connects to all important sites. Dune buggies can be rented but the easiest way to travel is by public bus. Hitchhiking is another popular mode of transportation and is fairly safe way to get around.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Fernando de Noronha  is considered one of the main ecotourism destinations in Brazil. Its growth and impacts on the local community are discussed in these three papers  .  The ecotourism agency Your Way  operating since 2001 has been the bridge between independent foreign travellers and the island’s local community. The archipelago is a mecca for surfers and the optimum time to visit – as opposed to the rest of Brazil – is December to March, when the best swell comes in from the winter storms of the icy North Atlantic. Just as with the rest of the tourist activities even surfing and its tournaments are integrated with the island’s preservation. For example, Hang Loose, the sponsors of one of the professional surfing championships held annually in February, has an entire department called “Surf Roots” dedicated to ecological conservation. The company has constructed the base of their judging platform on narrow pylons to enable easy passage for turtles and the day’s competition ends punctually at 6pm allowing the beach time to vacate well before the turtles begin to arrive and lay their eggs. The company also maintains a tree nursery on the island, which aims at assisting reforesting projects in the archipelago and along with the national park promotes awareness amongst locals and tourists.

Holiday packages and accommodation for surfers, divers and hikers can be arranged through NoronhaBookers or Trip Noronha.  There are 5 main trails, 3 within the National Marine Park and 2 outwith, providing a total of about 12 hours of hiking. The trails also link the various scattered remains of the 18th century forts. For those not inclined towards water sports or walking there are various boat tours on offer including those offered by Project Navi  with their innovative underwater vision vessel. Booking a flight and reserving a hotel in Noronha is not an easy task, considering the size of the islands and its tight control on the number of visitors. It's useful to know that only about 400 tourists can be at the island at any given time slot. The island houses between 120-150 inns, or pousadas in Portuguese, and most offer breakfast with the standard rate.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The original vegetation of the islands, known as Insular Atlantic Rainforest, has clear affinities with the highly threatened Atlantic Rainforest, but with considerably reduced diversity and some endemism, a result of its isolation. Only 5% of the original forest remains, near the isolated Cape Sapata, having been deliberately cleared in the past. A small area of some 1.5 ha of mangroves occurs, which is the only oceanic mangrove community in the South Atlantic. Over 400 plant species are recorded, including 3 endemics. The vegetation is now dominated by vine and shrub species with a few trees and planted secondary forest. Fifteen species are locally endemic. There are a great number of introduced species including harmful climbing vines and fruit trees include papaya, cashew, banana, tamarind, caja, and guava; other ornamental species include almond, royal poinciana, eucalyptus, and even coconut palms.

Some of the largest breeding colonies of tropical Atlantic seabirds are found in the islands, which are also visited by 55 species of migratory birds. The Atol das Rocas is the most important site for these seabirds including the largest South Atlantic colonies of sooty tern, brown noddy and masked booby. There are six terrestrial birds of which three are locally endemic: the Noronho vireo, the Noronho elaenia and the Eared dove. There are two mammals: the introduced rock cavy and domestic sheep. Reptiles include the mabuya or Noronha skink and two lizards, the endemic Ridley’s blind worm and the teju, introduced to control rats but now a menace to birds. There are also two endemic invertebrates.

The offshore marine environment is of great interest. A population of spinner dolphins of up to 1,200 individuals lives in the surrounding waters and gathers daily in great numbers to rest in an enclosed bay. There are two turtle species present. The green turtle which breeds on the islands in the country’s second largest rookery, and juvenile hawksbill turtles during their migration to the coast of Africa. Many other cetaceans are regular visitors to the islands.

Understanding the importance of the ecosystems found in Fernando de Noronha, most of the main island and all of the smaller islands fall under the banner of the National Marine Park administered by IBAMA. An Environmental Protection Area established in 1986 covers the rest of the main island, including the populated area. The marine park is responsible for the preservation of the flora, fauna, marine life, natural resources and historical sites as well as promoting scientific research and environmental education. Within the marine park several regulations that attempt to protect the environment exist, which locals and visitors have to strictly adhere to. In case any of these rules are violated, fines and apprehension will be enforced by local federal environmental office of ICMBio that regulates and monitors sustainable visitation of the National Marine Park. The following activities, for example, are not allowed:

  • Fishing by non-residents
  • Importation of animals or plants
  • Chasing, harassing or feeding any animals
  • Interfering or removal with vegetation, collecting seeds, roots or fruits
  • Collecting or removal of shells, corals, stones, animals, or even parts of organisms
  • Visiting areas of the National Marine Park from 6pm to 8am
  • Swimming, snorkeling, stopping a boat, or diving anywhere near Baia dos Golfinhos
  • Littering and leaving waste on beaches or trails
  • Visiting any other islands or islets of the archipelago
  • Camping and sleeping outside or building a fire
  • Visiting restricted areas without previous authorization from ICMBio
  • Anchoring boats in any NMP area with the exception of Sancho Sandbanks
  • Writing of graffiti on any rocks, trees or signs
  • Snorkeling inside the tidal pools of Baia dos Porcos
  • Setting foot or snorkeling in Buraco da Raquel and Ponta das Caracas tidal pools
  • Walking over the reef formations of Atalaia, Leao or Sueste Beaches
  • Entering Sueste’s mangrove habitat
  • Disrespecting buoys marking dedicated areas in Sueste Bay or Baia Dos Golfinhos
  • Wearing fins, sneakers, insect repellent or sunscreen in the waters of Atalaia and Caieira tidal pools
  • Scuba diving without booking through one of the three registered dive operators on the island
  • Swimming with Spinner Dolphins

The National Centre for Conservation and Sea Turtle Management of Brazil or TAMAR  (an abbreviation for the Portuguese word for sea turtles – “tartarugas marinhas”) was set up to ensure the protection of and to monitor the sea turtle population in the area. The project keeps track of female turtles, their eggs and reproductive environment and has been monitoring the population since 1984. The green turtles frequent the beaches of Leao and Sancho. In November, during the mating season they can be seen on the surface of the water, while during the rainy season of December to May the females swim to the beaches at night where they lay their eggs to incubate.

TAMAR has a visitors` centre and an Open Sea Turtle Museum at Alameda do Boldro, which has plenty of information regarding the importance of turtle conservation and habits of turtles, shown via posters, videos and multimedia programs. The centre also has considerable information on the island’s natural history. It is worthwhile to check with this office when a turtle egg laying or hatching trip is being scheduled, as the experience is one of a kind. TAMAR also employs over 300 fishermen and even prior turtle poachers, who work as turtle handlers, patrolling and examining the turtle nesting areas and providing valuable information to the authorities. Further, the organization has initiated several community programs, including education courses and the setting up of public schools and community vegetable gardens.

The Spinner Dolphin Project  established in 1990 and sponsored by the Petrobas oil company  works closely with the country’s Environment Ministry and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) to establish guidelines and set rules and regulations to ensure the protection of Spinner Dolphins. The project oversees research programs and promotes awareness about dolphins among visitors as well as the locals. Training courses in ecotourism and the preservation of the archipelago are also conducted, especially aimed at the youth of these islands.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

In 2011 Fernando de Noronha hosted a meeting for various agencies to focus on process studies and observational needs to improve coupled ocean-atmosphere modelling over the tropical Atlantic, as well as address whether current regular observations over the tropical Atlantic are adequate for climate change research. One study  reports that during the last decades, and especially for periods of the year when the highest tide coefficients occur (January-February and August-September), some coastal locations in Northeast Brazil have been damaged by sea waves. In the same region, sea surface temperature and easterly trade winds have shown pronounced increases. These events are compatible with water thermal expansion, as well as water mass accumulation in the Atlantic western boundary, and could be the origin of recent coastal damages.