By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Ilha Grande has long been a popular tourist destination and weekend getaway for Cariocas and foreigners alike who flock to its shores every year in search of the natural, rugged terrain and beautiful beaches that have come to symbolize this hidden oasis. Arguably one of the most popular islands on the Brazilian coastline, steps are currently being taken to preserve its natural beauty and protect the wildlife by registering it as a UNESCO world heritage site.
One of the proposals is to limit the number of visitors to its shores, a procedure which has long been in place on two of its sister islands, Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas.
The application will be formally submitted to UNESCO later this month and aims to prove that the island has a sufficient eco-system that warrants this level of protection and conservation.
The move is intended to target any threat to the island’s ancient rainforest which in turn provides sanctuary to a number of endangered species such as the red ruffed fruit crow, the brown howler monkey, the maned sloth and the red browed Amazon parrot.
Not only on land, the surrounding seas are also home to a delicately balanced marine life and a rich coral reef that could potentially be endangered by the position of a large oil platform just off its shores. It is said that the mayor believes the island’s chances of being granted national heritage protection to be very strong on account of the presence of these endangered species and the proximity of the oil tankers.
If the island is indeed granted national heritage protection and the power to control the number of visitors it receives, many of its tourist based industries could be affected, including the growth of pousadas, particularly as the island is already subject to strict regulations. Undoubtedly, this could limit or even prohibit future hotel and building development. However, the overall feeling of most business owners and residents seems to be one of positive anticipation.
Paulo Robert Rocha is a long term resident of the Anambe Pousada who stated “I think it will have a positive effect on our businesses because we will have a better selection of visitors, and that may reduce the number of one day travelers to the island.”
Rocha went on to say that becoming a national heritage site would also help to safeguard local, legitimate businesses because, “All businesses will have to be registered which will remove any counterfeit ones that could give the island a bad name.”
Greater protection could well have a positive effect on the tourist market. With cleaner waters and unsoiled shores, visitors will be more inclined to return to the island and hopefully gain a greater appreciation of its fragile eco-system.
Daniel Gouvea, owner of the Elite Dive Centre on Ilha Grande, is pleased about the current moves to establish the island as a protected zone. “The cleaner the water, the better the marine life will be and therefore the quality of diving will be greatly improved.”
Certainly for some island residents, the possibility of forever preserving the island’s precious habitat is extremely important. Manager and diving instructor Caroline Correa added “We love diving and we love marine life, that’s why we do this job but protecting it comes first so I hope the application will be approved.”