Brazilian coral reefs: a handbook for the environmentally conscious tourist

February 18, 2008 | By More


I don’t usually like to open an entry with a photograph, but in this case the placement of the image is deliberate and has the only aim of provoking an instant reaction from the reader. What you see above is tourism on a coral reef Brazilian-sytle.

2008 is the Internation Year of the Reef and the Brazil Travel Blog‘s contribution to the celebration is this handbook. I only want to raise awareness among tourists about the critical situation of coral reefs in Brazil (our blog post 80% of Brazil’s coral reefs wiped out in 50 years shows that critical it might be an understatement). What can the tourist do to avoid contributing to the degradation of the few surviving coral reefs in Brazil? The following handbook was written with a pinch of common sense and some excellent ideas extracted from the websites of the International Year of the Reef y and the Coral Reef Alliance.


1. Do find out about coral reefs.
Before you visit a coral reef, learn about corals, how they live, how they feed. Once you are aware of how fragile the environmental balance they depend on is, you will be much more careful with them when you visit them.

2. Do not buy souvenirs extracted from the bottom of the sea.
Before and after your trip you will see locals selling starfish, sea shells, seahorses. They have been extracted illegaly from the sea and in an unsustainable manner. Do not buy they, and do explain why you don’t do it. Do ask everyone around you not to buy the souvenirs either.

3. Make sure no rubbish is thrown to the sea from the boat that takes you to the reef.
If you see someone throwing away rubbish, tell them off and talk to the person in charge for the trip as well. The tourism industry has convinced Brazilians that coral reefs are the ideal place for a picnic. If the boat has a kitchen or a bar, pay particular attention to where the waste goes.

Maracajau, Rio Grande do Norte

4. Do not walk on the corals.
Corals are living beings, they are not rocks. In some places you will see that part of the visit to the coral reef includes walking on the corals. Do refuse to do so.

5. If you dive, do not touch the corals.
Be very careful with your flippers, do not hit the coral reef accidentally. On a shallow sea, do not stand on the bottom of the sea, you will stir particles that are damaging to corals. Dive horizontally, to avoid touching the corals with your feet. Do not move your arms abruptly. Move slowly, relax.

6. Do not feed the fish.
They are wild animals, they can feed themselves. Do not introduce environmental imbalances. In quite a few places in Brazil, the locals will offer you food for the fish. Refuse it, and explain why you do it.

7. Do not bring anything outside the water, dead or alive.
The only exception to this rule is garbage.

8. Do find out if the company running the trip makes it a policy to educate tourists about the protection and conservation of coral reefs.
You will be disheartened when you discover many Brazilian companies are running trips exclusively for the money. The more tourists they can carry per day, the better. There is absolutely no effort to educate the tourists. And education is something that, as the pictures that illustrate this entry make it very clear, the country is lacking.

9. Do prefer boats that use bouys rather than anchors.
Anchors are deadly to coral reefs.

10. Do spread the word.
Let all your friends and acquaintances know how to behave on a coral reef. When you return from Brazil, tell everybody what you thought of the experience of visiting a coral reef. Places that make an effort to protect the natural heritage should be praised; those that pay scant attention to the environment should be reported and boycotted.

Unfortunately, I realized that if you were to follow this handbook you couldn’t possibly visit in a sustainable way most of the Brazilian coral reefs. Something has to change.


In all the Brazilian coral reefs I know tourism is predatory and unsustainable. Long is the list of crimes against the environment committed in very popular places like the Recife de Fora in Porto Seguro, the Parrachos in Maracajaú near Natal, the natural pools in Porto de Galinhas in Pernambuco, and the Galés of Maragogi in Alagoas. Basically, wherever there are tourists and coral reefs, the destruction has been devastating – the exception being the island of Fernando de Noronha.

We all play an important part.

  1. The tourist, in the first place, in its role as consumer of a tourist service. No demand, no supply. If thousands of people weren’t willing to picnic, can of beer in hand, in the middle of a coral reef, there wouldn’t be a place for beer sellers and meat skewers providers. We have to stop consuming products that endanger the environment.
  2. Tourist sector workers. Whether by ignorance of sheer bad faith, they all want to keep the cash machine rolling. Those who act out of ignorance need to be educated. Those acting out of bad faith, need to be reported.
  3. The tourism industry and its publicity branch (travel magazines). By selling as paradise destinations places where the environment is endangered on a daily basis, they contribute to perpetuate in eternum the cycle of destruction.

For what it’s worth, being a part of the problem means we are also part of the solution.

The two pictures of Maragogi used on this entry belong to Juninho Insanoskater, who has kindly allowed me to reproduce them here.

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Category: Activities

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