1. Contingency planning for fossil fuel contamination:
To protect a marine environment in case of fossil fuel spills, a contingency plan is required in case of a minor fuel spill in the port or anchorage, as for a major crude oil spill from a nearby tanker. Implementing such a contingency plan involves planning, training, equipment, and an action plan. Therefore, a specialised company was approached to identify the basic work plan and specific equipment like contingency barriers, absorbing materials, and PPEs, which should be locally available. In addition, the emergency preparedness of the local authorities and population needs training and communication drills with the Navy; the close by port of Natal and surrounding oil rigs are highly recommended.
The goal to close off the little port of Noronha, surround a vessel at anchor with contingency barriers, or have an action plan in case of a significant oil spill from a tanker in the vicinity, needs attention. Since Exxon Valdes (1998), and with Noronha being at the crossroads of the main cargo artery between the North and the South Atlantic Ocean, the considerations are a reality nowadays.
2. Extension of the marine park and patrolling possibilities:
Just over a hundred km² perhaps seems like a large area. But, in comparison to the two million Km² granted to the National MPA (Marine Protected Area) of the national park of Malpelo (Colombia), one may realise the scarcity of the matter in Noronha. Nevertheless, the Colombian marine park protection programme has much to thank for the efforts of ‘Fundación Malpelo’ run by Mrs Sandra Bessudo and serves as a guideline for Fernando de Noronha.
Still today, no patrol vessel is available to the park rangers of Noronha, and vessels with dangerous cargo may still transit through the marine park. The necessity to have a better maritime regulation, an independent vessel or at least a clear agenda for a collaboration with the Brazilian Navy is indisputable.
3. Shark conservation:
Sharks are facing unprecedented overfishing, targeted directly for their fins or caught accidentally (by-catch). Generally, overfishing has led to what has been termed a mass extinction among ocean species, and sharks are no exception to this. As a result, many species of sharks are now listed on the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Shark conservation in Brazil is a hot topic, as the country still refuses to sign the shark fishing ban proposed by the IUCN. To assist the mission, PADI approached fifteen dive centres in Brazil, offering ‘Shark Awareness courses’ for free in 2021.
In Noronha, sharks have been commercially fished for many years, and it was only about ten years ago that sharks were not allowed to be caught within the National Park. Reef sharks, nurse sharks and lemon sharks are quite common, but species such as tiger sharks or hammerhead sharks have also been documented. Unfortunately, there is no programme to protect sharks in Brazil, and the importance of the species for a healthy marine ecosystem has not yet been considered.
The team of Noronha Diver took the initiative to register several parameters of sightings and water conditions after every dive. The research is a voluntarily project by the company’s instructors, available in their shop in the “villa de remeidio” (old town). The first report was released with data gathered between February 2019 and March 2020. The future of this study will be particularly interesting in years to come. It will enable us to compare and see the evolution of species with data that caught the attention of the National Park authorities. As a small example of their first annual report on sharks: Sharks (including four species) are seen during 66% of the dives, Rays (including three species), 43% of the dives, and Turtles (including two species) 24% of the dives.
The support and hospitality of Maristela and Paulo, who run Noronha Diver has been a blessing in disguise for the conservation project. The dive operation owns several dive boats, of which one is a large catamaran, which is the most comfortable and spacious option locally.
Experienced divers have the unique opportunity to participate in what could be called a “Discovery Tec Dive”. One of their smaller boats, called ‘Mero’, is designated specifically to allow a decompression dive experience for divers who are not necessarily Tec divers. You can participate if you have at least fifty dives, are certified in Nitrox, and have a minimum advanced diver level. Shipwreck “Corveta V-17” was a military vessel that sunk after grounding in 1983 and remains at a depth of 54 to 56 metres, depending on the tide. I was honoured to be invited by Noronha Diver to participate in the dive, and the experience felt comfortable and safe. Five staff, including a tec-instructor and photographer, are at your service to make it happen. Plenty of tanks with three gases (Nitrox, Trimix, and O2) were filled for the occasion and monitored accordingly for a comfortable ascent after 22 to 24 minutes of bottom time. The scenery is picturesque from the moment you can distinguish the wreck’s appearance while descending by a rope. The wreck lies on the sandy white bottom, surrounded by a clear dark blue atmosphere, and is fully covered in sponges and other bright organisms. This guided multi-level dive is planned very carefully to go from the propeller blades up to the main deck and bridge deck, before reaching the thick line for the ascent. A unique discovery opportunity for those who have never done Tec diving before!
In addition, being on the wish list of divers, surfers, or paradisiac beach lovers, Noronha is not only the safest place in Brazil, but the nature is fantastic, and the beaches have been voted the most beautiful in Brazil.
It is relatively unknown to the international public but well known amongst the wealthier Brazilian holiday makers. For most nationals the rates of flights and park fees are simply too costly.