Fortaleza, Ceará


    Wednesday – 24 – 08 – 2005

    We arrived from São Paulo at about 2 p.m. and went right away to the Endless Sea, anchored at the only marina of the city at the Hotel Marina Park. Paulina Chamorro and film maker Paulo Cezar Cardoso were with me.

    Our fellow Alonso Góes was on board, as usual. He had brought the sailboat from Camocim, helped by a fisherman since during our last trip, the fuel ejection pump had broken and had to be repaired in Sobral. I decided to finish the last part of our journey until Fortaleza by car in order to not waste time. Eventually we found out why this breakdown occurred as well as the previous ones: there was water in the fuel tank as well as some sediment, a type of diesel residue. This sort of problem is relatively predictable during a trip like ours, when we have to fuel at unknown ports, many times with dirty fuel, sometimes with “baptized” fuel, mixed with other substances, thus enabling some profit. Well, now we know what was causing us all that trouble and the problem was solved. The tank was cleaned, the pump was repaired, and “Marzão” (Big Sea), that”s how I call it sometimes, was ready for a new stage of our journey. This time, however, we are not going to sail; the idea is to be in the city in order to talk to the academic community, to learn specific features of Ceara”s coast. We also want to get in contact with NGOs, especially people from Terramar.

    We had a good start. We left our luggage on board and went straight to Institute Labomar linked with Ceara”s Federal University to talk to professor Antonio Adauto Fonteles Filho, an expert in the species population dynamic.

    To begin with, I wanted to know why, with such a big coastal area, Brazil has such weak fishing results, reaching at most 900 thousand tons at the peak of the productivity, in the 80s, when we were nº26 in the world”s rank, among the countries which had fishing as an economic activity. The answer is the following: most of the Brazilian territory, from 60% to 70%, is in the tropical zone of hot waters, which is poor in nutrients. We have lots of species, but little fishing biomass.

    What saves us from a fiasco is the south of Brazil and the Amazon where the continental platform is very rich, especially the amount of nutrients that the river itself dumps in the sea.

    I asked the professor about the strategy of the government which seems not to bother either about the fate of non-industrial fishermen, or that of caiçaras who survive purely from extraction. To him, the government should only worry about certain zones, such as the south, which has a good biomass of bottom fishes, and the far north, for the richness offered by the Amazon river. “Leave the rest the way it is”. Then he talked about an interesting comparison with agriculture. According to this idea, the government takes care of a few products, those that are interesting as far as the trade balance is concerned. Soya, for instance, there are researches from Embrapa, guidelines, policies, funds, etc.. But the other producers, it”s every man for himself. It wouldn”t work economically speaking, for a developing country to make more. This is his idea in a few words.

    Afterwards we talked about an important subject here in Ceara: the lobster fishing. Professor Adauto told us that Labomar had warned the government about the first signs of overfishing in 1974.

    The fact is that very little has been done and every year the lobster culture has been falling. There are many reasons that lead to this situation, for instance the fact that Brazil is the only country that still allows the use of dragnet, it is a type of net that rotates the bottom of the sea damaging the habitat, in addition to bringing “the accompanying fauna”, turtles and small fishes that die and are thrown into the sea again. But that”s not all. Many fishermen risk their lives using the compressor, two out of three boats have no fishing permit. Most of them kill lobsters below the minimum size, etc. This last data was given by Ibama, Brazilian Environment and Natural Resources Institute.

    By the way, the director of Ibama”s Fauna and Fishing Resources, Rômulo Mello, declared the following: “Lobster represents 20% of all the available fishes in Brazil, in figures this means eighty million dollars. Out of 900 thousand fishermen in Brazil, 11 thousand fish lobsters. However, we are producing above the supply recovery capacity”. But he omitted the fact that the use of dragnet is allowed by Ibama because of a strong lobby from fishing shipowners. And when there is inspection, everybody knows about it beforehand, sometimes it is even published in the newspaper, according to what we showed in logbook nº 8. A significant part of the shipowners” professional fishing is also responsible for that, seeing that they should know more than anybody else the size of the supplies and could have determined an operational strategy not to extinguish them. But they weren”t able to meet and determine preventive measures. Thus, it is easy to understand why nothing changes and that it is a matter of time to finish once and for all the sustainability of the lobster fishing. There are alarming data. In Ceara, where 60% of the production is found, statistics show the supply is decreasing. In 1991, 7.863,4 tons were fished. In 2003, only 2.486,8 tons.

    According to professor Adauto, “the good thing is that the lobster has just a few predators”, octopuses, groupers, fishes of the bottom of the sea, in general. Professor Adauto also said that we only have economic fishing if it is extensive and that it is impossible to control a collective activity… That”s why he thinks it is normal what has happened to the supplies.

    After the talk with professor Adauto, we focused our attention on the shrimp breeding in captivity. We talked to another expert from Ceara”s Federal University, Luiz Drude Lacerda, head of the chair of Tropical Marine Sciences. Here are the data he gave us: the total area of crustacean culture in the country is 16 thousand hectares. Ninety per cent in the northeast. There are from 9 to 10 thousand hectares, only in this area.

    I replied saying that mangroves are destroyed by producers, but the professor minimized it, saying that in the northeast there would be only 600 hectares of mangroves. I said the species cultivated was from the Pacific, therefore, with a big potential of decimating native supplies. The professor disagreed again, stating that Vanamei is very fragile, consequently unable to cause such damage.

    Then we talked about contamination, especially from the use of metabisulfite that at the end of the process is thrown into the estuaries. When this happens, this antioxidant reacts by removing oxygen from the water that accumulated nutrients in a process known as eutrophy. And what about this issue, I asked. Professor Drude agreed that it was a serious issue. If the crustacean culture increases “then this may be a dramatic issue”.

    Drude continued and explained that the worst problem was that of aquiculture. Shrimps or salmon are fed with fish flour. This mixture is made with populations that were not fished before, in spite of the fact of having an important role in the marine food chain. This is nonsense: aquiculture emerged to solve the overfishing problem. But as this activity increases, more fishes that were discarded before for their little commercial value, will be captured to feed the breeding… this may be a terrible consequence, said professor Drude.

    All this is strange, isn”t it? Be cool, there is worse. Those that support the crustacean culture say that it offers many jobs. According to the breeders” association, this means 3.75 people in indirect jobs per hectare produced. Besides, it brings foreign currencies. We checked these data. In our talks with a person who works for Ibama and renders services for Ceara”s University, Raul Maluino Madrid, we were told that 2004”s total production was 52.074 tons for a total area of 16 thousand and 500 hectares. Being exported, the foreign currency brought was 198 million dollars.

    I thought right away that it meant little money for so much environmental and social damage. In fact, it is. In 2004, the total amount of Brazilian exports was 94 billion dollars. This means that the crustacean culture “contributes” with 0,2% of exports. About jobs this culture creates, we talked to another expert, professor Jeovah Meireles, from the same University. He carried out some field research in shrimp farms and realized that the jobs created are normally 3.2 times lower than the figure given by the breeders” association. The vast majority of workers are not legally recorded and the jobs are seasonal. Workers are called to make dikes, when the farm is open, then they are dismissed. Every three months, when it is fishing time, they are called again to be dismissed after this job. When they work, they are paid from 12 to 14 reais per day.

    Besides, 84% of the 245 breeding farms in Ceara are in APPs, areas of permanent preservation, without being inspected or fined by Ibama. There is more: in addition to destroying mangroves, carnauba trees are cut down… The country doesn”t gain much and the environment loses considerably. This activity creates in the northeast fewer than 20 thousand jobs and brings uncountable social conflicts with the communities that live in the neighborhood and cannot survive from the activities in mangroves or from carnauba trees any more like previous generations. Is it worth it to continue like this, without inspection?

    Thursday, 25 – 08 – 2005.

    Today we had another interesting day during which we learned a lot. We talked to Romeu Duarte, superintendent of Ceara”s Iphan. He explained that Fortaleza is one of the youngest cities of the northeast, due especially to the fact that Ceara became independent in 1799. During the first centuries, this territory was part of the State of Maranhão and Grão-Para. Later, the same area was part of Pernambuco”s province. Development was possible because of sugar cane on the coast and cattle in the country. Later, like in Maranhão, cotton was introduced, to take advantage of the fact that, during the Secession War, the production of the United States didn”t supply the English plants which started to buy from Brazil. But Fortaleza started to be significant after the first port was built, in the middle of the 19th century. Before, Ceara had two important ports: Aracati that drained jerked beef until the end of the 18th, when the drought decimated the cattle, and then Camocim, which exported cotton produced in Sobral. This explains why here, the contrary of Belem or São Luis, in Maranhão, there aren”t big mansions or colonial buildings of historical value. Fortaleza is eminently, a modern city. Even the oldest buildings are “modern”, from the 20th century, like the beautiful José de Alencar theater, inaugurated in 1910 and built with an iron structure imported from Scotland. But what the most impressive ones are the huge sky-scrapers, that have been recently built alongside the beach, on the east side of the city. It is curious, it seems there is a line that divides Fortaleza into two. On the west side, live poorer people in short houses or slums. On the other side, alongside the beach, there are the huge apartment buildings. The city has two million and three hundred thousand inhabitants, one third, approximately 800 thousand, live in slums. Most people who live in slums are migrants who escaped from the drought and moved to the big city in search of jobs. This is another city that couldn”t supply the inhabitants with good sanitation conditions. Only about thirty per cent of the houses have their waste treated. As far as garbage collection is concerned, figures are far better: 80% of the inhabitants are served. Once again, our seas serve as latrine, like all the other capital we passed by: Macapa, Belem, São Luis…

    Additionally, there is the industrial pollution, pesticides that are used in agriculture, petrol leakage – Ceara has two ports – the pollution from the estuaries and the deforestation of mangroves caused by the crustacean culture, etc. And there are people who don”t understand why the seas don”t give so much fish any more. Why is that so?

    From Iphan”s headquarters we went to the street, to film and take pictures of the most emblematic areas. And sometimes, it is as if we weren”t in Brazil due to the great number of foreigners we meet in the streets, restaurants, bars, everywhere. Most of them are French, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese. The other thing in Fortaleza that caught our attention was the great number of buildings being build. Here real estate speculation exploded with the strength of a gale.

    Before the end of the day, we talked to the head of the Sea Sciences Institute – Labomar – Luis Parente Maia. We talked about the dunes, so important and constantly seen alongside the northeastern coast. In Ceara there are 295 square kilometers of movable dunes and 135 are fixed. How important are they? Well, since they are extremely porous, they absorb a lot of water, therefore they are the main source of fresh water on Ceara”s coast. It is also an important protection against strong tides, storms and other climatic phenomena such as hurricanes. And they must be kept away from human interference because they interact with the environment, the sand moves, falls on river-beds, then it is brought again to the sea and from there to the beaches in a constant and dynamic movement. But this ecosystem is threatened by the real estate speculation and the tourism industry. Companies put fences in huge areas (see logbook nº8) and with their sharp claws, once the battle of the ownership of the area is won, build dozens of big hotels on them. I fear for the future of Ceara”s marvelous western coast. And I realize that in the academic community this is very controversial. Some think that the occupation process is abnormal but it is under control. Others disagree and blame them for rendering services or counselling big groups. And you, what do you think?

    Friday, 26 – 08 – 2005.

    As soon as we woke up we sailed alongside the coast so that Cardozo could shoot the city from this special angle showing the occupation and the consequences clearly and precisely. As usual, the wind was so strong – whistling at 30 knots – that sometimes we were almost unable to shoot because of the oscillation of the boat. We went to Ponta de Mucuripe, a natural creek whose end was narrowed by a breakwater when the local port was built. Consequently, some beaches on the west end such as Iracema are about to disappear. According to professor Parente, any change on the coast blocking the natural flow of the sand pushed by the strong wind ends by causing other changes. This proves that the coast is fragile, therefore, the less you touch it, the better.

    Later we talked to Soraia Vanini Tupinambas, from Terramar, an NGO. She invited local inhabitants affected by the crustacean culture for the meeting and the data are alarming. Here are some of them: in Acarau there were gun shots between producers” security guards and some local inhabitants. The waters of the river were salty because of the effluents thrown. This also occurred at Porto do Céu near Aracati. Today, local inhabitants have no fresh water to drink. With dynamite canals were open for the crustacean culture in Pirangi river! According to her, even in dams where there is no flowing waters effluents may be found.

    Before the end of the day, we talked to another teacher from Ceara”s federal university, Jeovah Meireles, who didn”t spare criticism of the crustacean culture. He told us about the strong producers” lobby that ended by changing the environmental legislation. In 2002, COEMA – the State Council of the Environment – “miraculously” removed from this ecosystem the salt water swamp that regulates the arrival of nutrients from mangroves so that producers could continue their work without being disturbed by the inspection agencies. Until that moment the whole mangrove area was permanently preserved. It was such a strong lobby that it was possible to disregard this area thus hurting CONAMA”s resolution. Meireles explained that apicum (salt water swamp) in tupi guarani (Brazil”s native language) means exactly what mangroves are: flooded areas. He also told us that when there isn”t deforestation in this area, they cut carnauba trees that were exploited by extraction communities. In Jaguaribe valley there was deforestation in 650 native hectares. Professor Jeovah added that in April 2005, the crustacean culture study group wrote a report with a diagnosis of this destruction in the state of Ceara. The study showed that more than 80% of the 245 farms are in APPs, permanent preservation areas. Nevertheless, nothing happened.

    Saturday, 27 – 08 – 2005.

    Today, early in the morning we visited Mucuripe”s creek, the first Brazilian land that felt the European weight. In January 1500, a few months before Cabral”s arrival, Vicente Yanes Pinzon, ex captain of the caravel Nina from Columbus” fleet, arrived here from the Canaries. We went to Mucuripe with a reporter, Rodolfo Espínola, who wrote a book about Pinzon. He told us other stories about Mucuripe and showed us where there was a Portuguese fortress, which is buried today, and a pier built by Americans during the second world war.

    After lunch, Rodolfo made us visit an Iracema”s old inhabitant, dona Tata who knew raftsman Jacaré. He was a daring character. Unhappy with the negligence experienced by fishermen, in 1941, he decided to go to Rio de Janeiro by raft with three friends to call the federal government”s attention (Getulio Vargas) and claim working rights.

    On Fortaleza”s TV program, I also intended to tell Jacare”s story with his friends on São Pedro raft. It took them 61 days to go from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil”s capital at that time. And we were successful. Dona Tata was able to remember the departure date as well as the great celebration when they got back. We talked about the film directed by Orson Weles, “It”s all true”. To him, it was such an amazing story that he decided do make a film on Jacare”s life. Ironically, during the shootings, in Rio, when Jacare”s arrival was simulated, a big wave turned his raft down, at Tijuca, and the fisherman died. When Dona Tata was young, she participated in swimming competitions and was an extra in this film. Consequently, she could tell us good stories for our program.

    At the end of the day we rented a car. Tomorrow we are going to Aracati, a city alongside the Jaguaribe river, 170 kilometers away from Fortaleza. We intend to visit Ceara”s greatest shrimp farm, Compescal, owned by one of the six or seven fishing shipowners of the state and current mayor of the district, Expedito da Costa Ferreira. This visit was suggested by the professors we talked to. Either by those who are for or by those who are against the crustacean culture. Some said good things about this undertaking, others warned about the environmental harms. Thus, we decided to check by ourselves.

    Sunday, 28 -8 – 2005.

    At 9 a.m. we were on the road 040 that goes down a few kilometers from the coast towards Natal. We stopped at all the beaches to check the occupation situation. As a whole, I didn”t like what I saw. Most of them have buildings or houses on the sand… hotels and resorts are abundant, none of them obeyed the local architecture (straw, carnauba, short building not surpassing the crown of the coconut trees). On the contrary, you normally see tall buildings, with no charm, like huge caissons. This is the case, for instance, in Morro Branco, with exotic crags, from where native people take colorful sand to make drawings in bottles. Porto das Dunas is also entirely occupied by hundreds of houses of different types and many blocks of flats. In this area you can see many buildings on the dunes. A disaster. Praia das Fontes was worse where the real estate speculation hit all the records. There are dozens of mansions and even hotels at the top of the crags! Some of them have been spared on the east coast, such as Iguape, Canto Verde, where these buildings were not seen. We felt that Ceara”s east coast, where we are now, was occupied earlier than the west, from Jericoacoara to Fortaleza. And when it happened, people were less aware than today about the environment preservation, to keep the landscape unchanged, not to build in public areas such beaches, to keep the dunes free, so that they continue to play their role in the ecosystem, etc, etc. Compared with the east, the west coast is almost untouched. And much more beautiful.

    On the east coast, there are similar situations to the high occupation of the coast of São Paulo where you can barely find a passage to the beach, there are so many houses, one next to the other, that block people from going to the beach… Fontes is one of them.

    It is worthwhile comparing the pictures of the east coast beaches with those of the west coast (logbook nº8). If you still have doubts about the harm this chaotic occupation – moved by speculation – causes to the environment as well as aesthetically, I”m sure you”ll change your mind.

    Monday – 29 – 08 – 2005.

    Tonight we slept at a small hotel in Aracati, a city with 45 thousand inhabitants, not very charming, except a few old churches and colonial buildings. As soon as we woke up, we went to the shrimp farms alongside Jaguaribe river.

    We were astonished by the harm they caused. Great mangrove and salt water swamp areas, completely devastated, replaced by huge breeding pools, with no sedimentation bay, according to regulations in order not to pollute either the water table or the rivers of the area. Whole communities surrounded by farms have their passage to the sea or to traditional places almost blocked. This is what happens in Cumbe whose way to the cemetery was closed by the fences of the farms, refraining inhabitants from visiting it freely.

    I was really astonished by what I saw in Cumbe. Around the houses of the community where there are 135 families and approximately 800 inhabitants you can only see breeding pools and fences everywhere. We talked to a school teacher, João Luis Joventino, who cannot accept this situation. Although his life was threatened, he didn”t want us to film him, and once again he accused the breeders. João Luis showed us several mangrove areas that have been recently deforested as well as the consequences caused by deforestation such as dunes moving forward whereas before they were blocked by vegetation. Today, even the breeding pools are threatened by the dunes. In vain, the breeders try to stop them by covering the top with carnauba straw (see pictures). João Luis also complained about the pollution caused by the tanks which after having received toxic products, gates are open and flow straight to the river bed. When there is high tide, the contaminated water flows to river Jaguaribe that is beside. He told us not only about the extinction of the crab which used to feed part of the local community but also about the contamination of the water table whose soil is very porous. This contamination could be avoided if the breeders used sedimentation bays as it is required, but since it makes the production more expensive, the farms that we saw didn”t have it and Ibama rarely inspects or make these breeders pay fines. Although this is an APA – an environment protection area – João Luis confirmed this omission once again. He also showed us a report from Ceara”s sanitation company – CACEGE – February 19th, 2001, dissuading new farms in Cumbe because of the contamination risk of the source that supplies Aracati. Nevertheless, the shrimp farms are there. There are 103 farms along Jaguaribe”s estuary! It is the same in Pirangi”s valley which we crossed to arrive here and where we saw big devastated areas. We talked to another researcher, Raul Malvino Madrid, who works for Ibama and renders services to Ceara”s Federal University. He confirmed that 80% of shrimp breeders operate their farms without any environmental permit. They don”t have the EIA – Rima because it is very expensive and prefer to work like that.

    It is a pity. We have been visiting shrimp farms from Piaui. It is always the same story: social conflicts, breeders are violent through threats such as that reported by João Luis and sometimes someone is killed. This is what happened to Mexeriqueira, in Piaui (see logbook nº8). Rivers are polluted, mangroves are devastated, the water table is contaminated, etc. The “positive aspects” are employment, seasonal jobs, badly paid, with no working guarantees, anyway jobs are created. It yields very little for the Brazilian trade balance. To me, this strategy must be reviewed. The more I think about this issue, the more data I get, the harder it is to justify the harm in view of the little benefit.

    Well, during the visit, we saved one peixe-boi. Paulina saved it. We were told that one young peixe-boi was stuck at the beach between Cumbe and Canoa Quebrada. She immediately called people from Labomar, in Fortaleza, who warned Ibama”s people. And it worked. Maybe because this issue doesn”t involve conflicts, I don”t know… What matters is that the young peixe-boi was saved.

    From Aracati we went to Prainha do Canto Verde on our way back to Fortaleza. We wanted to visit it because we had been told about a good work done by the community and Terramar NGO.

    At Prainha do Canto Verde we were welcomed by René Scharer, one of Terramar”s founder, he also designed the shipyard school that was built there and he aims at making catamarans that will replace the fishing rafts.

    We saw only two options for the extraction communities who live alongside Ceara”s coast fishing or exploiting mangroves to get part of their living from it. One is at Fleixeiras on the west coast where they have been trying to breed alga (logbook nº8). The other is here at Prainha do Canto Verde.

    The fishing production is smaller and smaller and mangroves are being devastated because of the crustacean culture, chaotic tourism or even the real estate occupation on the coast. This tends to be worse as time goes by. Therefore, it is time to exploit new alternative projects.

    Prainha do Canto Verde is 120 kilometers far from Fortaleza, on the east side and it was not a very long time ago just a non-industrial fishing (fishes and lobsters) community. There are dunes, lagoons and mangroves around it. In 1976, a famous land-grabber in Ceara, in partnership with a real estate company, tried to buy the area. Local inhabitants reacted immediately: they started to fight to keep their properties. They went to the courts and after years of battles, they were successful at Ceara”s state court. Now they are waiting for the final decision, probably this year, from Brasilia”s Supreme Court. Because of this pending issue, in 1989. The Human Rights Defense Center, from Cardinal Aloisio Lohscheider, helped to found the Association of the local inhabitants of the community. In 1992, the project of sustainable development for the community began, supported by Prainha do Canto Verde”s Friends and the Swiss René Scharer is part of it and then the shipyard school project was born. He aims at enabling joiners to build catamarans that will replace rafts at relatively low costs. The group intends to be supported by the federal government through the Aquiculture and Fishing Special Department to have funds. The minister himself, José Fritsch visited the project and was enthusiastic about it. This is what I was told.

    Catamarans are more versatile than rafts, they are equipped with sounds, GPS, radar and radio with solar batteries, additionally they can be used for tourism. These boats can shelter fishermen during resting time as well as keep ice and food. Three of them have been built so far, and the first one is already operating. It was financed by foreign funds acquired by René and given to a group of fishermen. It cost between 25 thousand to 45 thousand reais, and the builders work to drop this sum. The yield is kept by the community to invest in other projects. Besides the shipyard, Prainha do Canto Verde also has sustainable tourism projects, turning local inhabitants” houses into simple but cozy inns, craftsmanship and organic agriculture.

    That”s not enough. These projects have been tested, but it is just beginning. They have been trying to find a solution to the predatory tourism that threatens Ceara”s coast. As I have just mentioned and the pictures on the site show it clearly, the beaches on Ceara”s east coast have been devastated by the strong real estate speculation that is supported today by foreign capital, especially European. And right now, countless foreign groups are ready to attack the nearly untouched west coast. When this tourism is well planned and done, respecting the local features and community, it doesn”t disturb, it helps. But when there are gigantic buildings oriented to mass tourism, then the conflicts begin. The communities loose their roots, their lands and the possibility of a honorable life. Normally, fishermen end up selling their properties by insignificant prices and many times they don”t even get a job in the new activity, since they don”t have the skills or weren”t trained for it. They end up being excluded in their own society, unable to have an activity out of which they can make their living.

    Fleixeiras and Prainha do Canto Verde are a shy answer for this possibility. The first ones I have seen since the beginning of our journey on Oiapoque river, Brazil”s northern border.

    I hope they are successful and their example is followed.

    The next step of our journey will be Rio Grande do Norte”s coast.