UFSC and the community of São Francisco do Sul suggest the creation of a Wildlife Refuge in the Distrito do Saí
In the woods, on top of a hill on the North Coast of Santa Catarina, a small Black-capped Becard is ready to brave its way into a new world. It could be a character in a cartoon, but it is a bird seen for the first time in a state where it is not usually seen. The chosen region is full of attractive features: with diverse species and abundant water, it should become the first conservation unit on the mainland of São Francisco do Sul, as a result of extensive work that brought together science and communities in the Distrito do Saí.
The partnership started after the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) was hired by the São Francisco do Sul City Hall to study the region. The funds came as part of a fine collected by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and were applied to analyse the characteristics for the creation of a municipal conservation unit, in a previously established polygon. The study resulted in a report with more than 700 pages, which organizes knowledge about aspects such as hydrology, geology, fauna and flora in the region and also presents a socio-anthropological history of the area, recommended to become a Wildlife Refuge.
The Nascentes do Saí Project draws a panoramic image and also an x-ray of a place full of particularities, which urgently needs to preserve its biodiversity and can also serve as an ecological tourism point due to its characteristics. The territory of the Distrito do Saí has 116 km² (roughly 44 square miles), water, forest and animals in abundance and a cultural heritage full of stories. Transforming it into a conservation unit will contribute to the protection and sustainable development of its tourist attractions.
“The region of hills in the Distrito do Saí surprised us with its richness of species, both flora and fauna. It is a remnant of Atlantic Forest that is very important to the State, most of which is at an advanced stage of regeneration, in addition to being fundamental for the municipality’s water security because of its springs”, explains Professor Rodrigo de Almeida Mohedano, from the Department Sanitary and Environmental Engineering and project coordinator. “In addition to this gathering of information, of data, the project is based on a governance process with the community, because we understand that vertical actions, from the top down, are not very effective. It is necessary that the community participates from the beginning”, contextualizes the professor.
The process was not easy at first, since common sense dictates that protected areas are usually to be feared, because, in some cases, they tend to make occupation rules more rigid. But even with an unforeseen pandemic along the way, the team managed to build, based on dialogue, a proposal and a draft of a law to create what is called Wildlife Refuge.
The polygon initially delimited by the city hall became a larger area, of approximately 6,702 hectares (roughly 16 acres), according to Professor Orlando Ferretti, responsible for the geographic characterization. The route also started to cover areas of higher altitudes, on the border with Itapoá and Garuva, where there is no occupation, but there is forest.
According to Ferretti, the proposal to create a unit at the site dates back to the 1980s, when Unesco created the concept of a Biosphere Reserve, with the objective of supporting the preservation of different biomes around the world. In Brazil, this process lasted between the end of 1990 and the beginning of 2000, when possible reserves for the Atlantic Forest areas were established. “It was a designation much more of an international policy, of observing in the different biomes which areas should be more cared for and have more scientific work and protected areas”, he contextualizes.
Today, the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve (RBMA), the first created in Brazil, has undergone several expansions. According to information from Unesco, it covers territorial portions of Atlantic Forest vegetation over 89,687,000 hectares (roughly 221 acres). This forms an ecological corridor through 17 states, including Santa Catarina. The RBMA is the largest and one of the most important units of the UNESCO World Network.
Within the Atlantic Forest biome itself, explains the professor, numerous reserves were created, part of them in the southern region – and the most important today is called Serra do Tabuleiro State Park. “In the North, there are areas of Serra do Mar, in the regions of Joinville, Campo Alegre, Garuva, São Chico. There is a great indication of the importance and biodiversity in these areas, marked out by Unesco”, he comments. The São Francisco do Sul region, since the 2000s, has been recognized as highly important, but it still does not have a conservation unit in its continental area.
The idea of creating the first full protection conservation unit in the region has an additional importance: added to the other protected areas in the surroundings, this polygon would be a kind of ecological corridor and would guarantee more genetic exchange in the populations of animals or plants that live in other reservations. “It is important that there is a lot of conservation unit* so that there is a connection between the different fragments and therefore the species can circulate between the areas, making the genetic flow easier”, emphasizes Rodrigo.
Professor Ferretti also reinforces the possibility of a new reserve joining a so-called mosaic of protected areas, which guarantees greater coverage of legal protection, with an intense variety of environments, such as mountains and plains, for example. This allows for a possible connection with corridors, either by water or by land, making the animals pass from one point to another. “The creation of units is urgent too, so as not to isolate these animals”, he points out.
According to Professor Rodrigo, the Environmental Education Center* (NEAmb) was one of the cornerstones of this entire process. In addition to having, in its history, the execution of a similar work, carried out in the city of Itapema, the NEAmb potentialised multidisciplinary knowledge for the study. “Our differential was to work with communities, empower the community with knowledge and include them in the process, with environmental education and governance methodologies”.
The proposal to unite the local knowledge of the community and the technical knowledge that the UFSC team proposed made the Nascentes do Saí project a collective effort. “It’s no use coming from outside, from the university or from the government, and imposing the creation of a Conservation Unit, because without its appropriation by the community, it would only exist on paper”, emphasizes Luiz Gabriel Catoira Vasconcelos, responsible for governance. “The concept of governance that we bring from Professor Daniel Silva is precisely this: increasing the ability of communities to participate in the management of their territory and their common goods”.
The researcher recalls that it was a challenge to transform pre-established opinions, since many of the residents identified the project as potentially harmful to them and their way of life. Lack of trust in the government and even a prejudice towards environmental initiatives are pointed out as two of the possible causes of this initial distancing. “The effectiveness of managing common goods such as water, forests and a balanced environment depends on the existence of dialogue and cooperation between all the actors involved. Otherwise, individualistic competition leads to an intensification of degradation and eventually to irreversible collapse”, he points out.
For this reason, the team sought to cultivate and build trusting relationships. The community was called to participate from the beginning, in conversations, then in virtual groups, due to the pandemic, and also in the three public hearings held to present what information was being gathered and also to hear what residents had to say. The workshops on participatory construction of the Conservation Unit proposal established dialogue between people with divergent views, driving them into working in a cooperative manner.
“Certainly the participation of each person enriched the process and contributed to the quality and legitimacy of the decisions taken. More than that, it was an encouragement that it may still be possible to regenerate the capacity for dialogue and cooperation in our society”, points out Vasconcelos, who saw the community exercise autonomy for the proposition of the Wildlife Refuge category, a joint recommendation, which reconciled the technical knowledge of the UFSC team with the interests and knowledge of the community. “Of course there were also the objective and methodological moments of the workshops, but they were the result of months of listening, talking, connecting and persevering in the dialogue, especially when it was difficult”.
Culture and traditions also preserved
The community, actively participating in the decisions about the Distrito do Saí protected area, also integrated the project on another front: sharing their memories, telling their stories and presenting their practices, which allowed the UFSC team to carry out a socio-anthropological inventory of the region. . For the researcher Elis do Nascimento Silva, coordinator of the study, it is important to consider that the creation of a CU in a territory does not only involve the protection of the natural environment and its biodiversity, but it also articulates with the life of peoples and communities.
“A sociological, historical and anthropological approach is necessary from the beginning of the study and surveys of primary and secondary data that allow us to understand the history of occupation of the region, the activities and productive practices of the communities that depend on areas destined for creation of CU and, above all, the affective bonds and traditional ways of people interacting with these environments for some generations”, summarizes Elis.
One of the things that caught the team’s attention was the rich history of occupation in that area, from the pre-colonial period, signaled by the remains of the sambaquis, which prove that there is a human presence in the region for at least 6,000 back from present time.
There are other points in history that deserved a careful recording from the UFSC researchers as part of the effort to collect the memories and events of the community: the arrival of the French in 1504 and the experience of the Falanstério do Saí in 1842 for the implementation of a collectivist system of work based on free association and cooperativism, for example, is also a moment that differentiates the Distrito do Saí from other areas. Other sociocultural heritages are attributed to the historical presence of the Guarani people, the Portuguese, Spanish, Germans and enslaved Afro-descendants.
The recognition and appreciation of artisanal fishing as an important intangible cultural heritage of the Distrito do Saí is another highlight that the researcher makes about the study. According to her, even with a certain weakening in the practice of this activity among the new generations, it is a tradition of the place that is present in the memory of most families. “Related to artisanal fishing, there is also the culture of the flour mills and the festivities – traditional and contemporary – that are currently celebrated in the Distrito do Saí, such as the Nossa Senhora da Glória Festival and the Shrimp Festival”, he points out.
For Elis, the existence of a conservation unit in the Distrito can further involve the community in the territory, being able to strengthen the cultural identity and generate a sense of belonging due to the appreciation of biodiversity by the government and tourists. “With the creation of the CU, we anticipate that it can be another tourist attraction for the region and that, based on the interest and organization of the community, its material and intangible cultural heritage can be better managed and valued as a potential of the Distrito do Saí, not only cultural-historical, but also developing the local economy even further”, adds the researcher.
Amanda Miranda/Agecom Journalist
Translated by SINTER/UFSC
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