Coral reefs in Northeast Brazil prevent BRL 160 billion damage

If preserved, they can guarantee BRL 7 billion for regional tourism

Published on 05/11/2023 - 09:00 By Vitor Abdala - Agência Brasil - Tamandaré (PE)*

The coral reefs that draw tourists to the Brazilian Northeast's coastline also act as crucial barriers against the sea's impact in many cities in the region.

A study conducted by the Grupo Boticário Foundation reveals that these natural formations near continents or islands prevent up to BRL 160 billion in damages to urban infrastructure by reducing the force and height of waves reaching the coast.

The calculation is based on the potential harm that storms and tides could cause to structures like buildings, houses, industries, ports, highways, streets, and sidewalks if coral reefs didn't mitigate the strength of the waves.

Four cities served as parameters for the calculation (Recife and Ipojuca in Pernambuco state; and Maragogi and São Miguel dos Milagres in Alagoas state). The values found in these cities were then extended to other municipalities receiving reef protection.

Coastal cities not safeguarded by coral reefs, such as Santos or Rio de Janeiro, face damage to waterfront structures when exposed to strong waves.

Ipojuca (PE), 26/10/2023 - Passeios de jangada para visitar recifes de corais na praia de Porto de Galinhas. Foto: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil
The 170 square kilometers of coral reef formations in northeastern Brazil generate approximately BRL 7 billion in annual revenue from tourism activitiesl - Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil


"Coral reefs are already known to provide various services, including coastal protection and tourism. What we're presenting are values, in real (Brazil’s currency). All this heritage, whether cultural, public or private, is being protected daily by coral reefs," says marine biologist Janaína Bumbeer, project manager at the Boticário Foundation.

In addition to preventing billions in damage, the 170 square kilometers of coral reef formations in northeastern Brazil generate approximately BRL 7 billion in annual revenue from tourism activities, such as diving and boat trips.

The study considered the revenue generated by these formations in destinations like Maragogi, São Miguel dos Milagres, Ipojuca (home to Porto de Galinhas), Caravelas (Bahia state, where the Abrolhos archipelago is located), and Fernando de Noronha (Pernambuco state), where coral reefs are among the main attractions.

The study also extended the findings to municipalities with the potential to develop these coastal formations for tourism.


During the Agência Brasil team's visit to the Pernambuco coast between October 24 and 26, several threats to the local ecosystem were observed, including tourists trampling on reefs, crowding natural pools, and leaving garbage behind. Additionally, there were controversial constructions by the sea and polluted water flowing into the sea from rivers.

"At Praia dos Carneiros [in Tamandaré], they've cut down all the sandbanks and built a bunch of buildings," says Mauro Maida, a professor in the Department of Oceanography at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

Maida explains that corals grow slowly, adding only a few millimeters each year. Therefore, it takes decades to establish large colonies.

"Reefs naturally erode; they exist in a balance of construction and erosion. Without coral, there's no reef construction, and if erosion prevails, the reef recedes, and the 2.5-meter tide in the state advances, causing coastal erosion."

Biologist Gislaine Lima, from the non-governmental organization Projeto de Conservação Recifal, explains that Pernambuco's capital, Recife, has suffered from urban expansion along its coastline over the past few decades. This expansion resulted in the construction of hundreds of buildings.

"Around fifty to sixty years ago, we had only three buildings here [in the Boa Viagem neighborhood]. It was an area of summer houses for the wealthiest people in Recife, along with a small fishing village. All this construction has led to increased silting," explains Lima.

Ipojuca (PE), 26/10/2023 - Recifes cobertos com coral-baba-de-boi (Palythoa caribbaeorum) na área de pesquisa da Biofábrica de Corais em Porto de Galinhas. Foto: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil
Reef covered wih baba-de-boi coral in Ipojuca, Pernambuco state- Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil


To ensure the health of coral reefs and their continued coastal protection and income generation for tourism-dependent municipalities, the study recommends measures like directing government resources to conservation units, implementing fees for coastal preservation, monitoring reef health, and promoting sustainable tourism.

"Coral reefs can be more positively exploited, without damaging the corals further. It's important to invest in sustainable tourism, community-based tourism involving local communities, citizen science, and regenerative tourism in which people help restore the environment," says Janaína Bumbeer.

In a statement, the Pernambuco Secretariat for the Environment pointed out that coral reefs are one of the state's main marine ecosystems. It has initiated ten projects focused on reef conservation, including plans to combat sea litter and invasive species, and establishing rules and zones for nautical tourism and fishing.

Additionally, the secretariat is carrying out comprehensive actions to benefit coral reefs, such as the State Solid Waste Policy, which involves training all the state's municipalities to handle solid and liquid waste and refuse.

*The Agência Brasil team traveled at the invitation of the Grupo Boticário Foundation.

Translation: Mário Nunes -  Edition: Denise Griesinger

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