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Coral reefs shrinking in Abrolhos

Abrolhos Archipelago: reef area has decreased by 28% in 160 years

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The reefs of the Abrolhos Archipelago, located off the coast of the state of Bahia in Northeast Brazil, have shrunk by an average of 28% over the last 160 years as a result of coral extraction for limestone production and increasing coastal sedimentation. The Guaratibas reefs, 7 kilometers from the coast, showed the greatest losses (49%), according to a group of researchers led by biologist Mariana Bender of the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), who analyzed nautical charts, reports by naturalists, modern maps, and remote sensing images (Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation, June 29). The oldest map of the region identified in the study, drawn in 1861 by French admiral Ernest Mouchez (1821–1892) and stored in Brazil’s National Library in Rio de Janeiro, was used as a basis for comparison with current records. It includes observations about sandbars, coral, and algal turf. Historical documents also indicate that in the seventeenth century, what was then the village (and is now a municipality) of Caravelas in southern Bahia extended into the state of Espírito Santo. Most of the 2,000 residents were whale hunters. Caravelas is now home to 22,000 inhabitants and is the departure point for trips to Abrolhos. The archipelago, formed by five islands, two of which are open to visitors by appointment, was recognized in 1983 as the first national marine park in Brazil.

Alexandre Affonso