Sharing knowledge in ecosystem restoration: generating a unique partnership
between Australia and Brazil.
Partnerships help us to achieve what we cannot do on our own. The ongoing
process of developing a partnership, by sharing knowledge in ecosystem
restoration, between Brazilian and Australian practitioners has not only
broadened the horizons of the participants, but will hopefully allow others
to benefit from their experiences.
Brazil and Australia, the two largest countries of the southern hemisphere
were once connected, as part of Gondwana, and indeed the arrival of marsupials in
Australia has been suggested is due to that link.
Both have repositories of extraordinary biodiversity, and the vast areas of
relatively unpopulated land at the heart of both countries are matched by a
concentration of population mainly on the eastern coastal fringes. There, the
pressures on coastal ecosystems have been unrelenting.
In Brazil the majority of the Atlantic Rainforest has been cleared, while
Australia has also lost the majority of its pre 1788 forest. Ongoing deforestation
in both countries is a major challenge. Both countries have symbolic, inland
federal capitals, Brasilia and Canberra, where this challenge needs to be
responded to politically.
There is also a parallel pattern of European colonisation and subsequent demise
of indigenous cultures, followed by multi-cultural migration.
In Brazil this has been a 500 year process compared to 200 in Australia, with
devastating environmental consequences. In both cases these impacts are
unsustainable and the need for ecosystem restoration is urgent. While Brazil was
a link on the long sea journey from Europe to Australia, geographic and cultural
isolation have limited closer ties between Brazil and Australia until recently.
The convergence of interest between Australians wishing to visit Brazil and
Brazilians working in Australia was the basis in 2000-2001 for a series of
meetings to plan the first
ecological restoration seminar in Florianopolis in 2002. The involvement of Nadia
Pietramale and Marinez Scherer was crucial because of their networks in Brazil,
and fundamental to its success.
The workshop was organized by Willoughby Council, the Australian Association of
Bush Regenerators, Landscape Explorer Society, Ambiental Ratones Institute,
Florianópolis Environmental Agency (FLORAM), Centre for Marine Studies (NEMAR)
from the Federal University of Santa Catarina and individuals. The event had
practical support from Gosford City Council, FLORAM, Habitasul and Ambiens, an
environmental consulting firm.
This workshop generated a unique collaboration between Australian and Brazilian
organizations and professionals, who contributed with knowledge and enthusiasm on
a voluntary basis. The Australian professionals were mostly from the bush
regeneration industry, TAFE lecturers (bush regeneration course) and council staff.
The Brazilians were university lecturers (Federal University of Santa Catarina and
University of Vale do Itajaí), staff from municipal, state and federal environmental
agencies, non-government organizations, undergraduate students, technical
consultants in ecosystem restoration and employees from private companies.
Over 70 people attended the event.
There were many shared lessons, with participants recognizing similar issues,
problems and frustrations associated with environmental management in both
countries. The Australians discovered that in spite of a perhaps stronger framework
of environmental legislation in Brazil, it was often bypassed.
In the experience of many participants from both countries environmental controls
were watered down when political pressure was applied to facilitate development.
The important role of volunteers in conjunction with local government in Australia
was contrasted with the need for financial incentives to achieve involvement in
revegetation projects in Brazil, some achieving spectacular results.
The Australian concern with noxious weeds was much greater than that of the
Brazilians who were more likely to see them as a resource to be optimized.
Creek restoration, stormwater management and Gross Pollutant Traps, were largely
unknown in Brazil, perhaps because the need for sewage treatment was a far more
The visitors were impressed by the clever reuse of plastic bottles polluting
mangrove areas, as pots to propagate seedlings when the tops were cut off and of the
close links between social programs and environmental education. It was noted that
the production of interpretive material and other education initiatives were growing
rapidly. The strong involvement from NGOs often fulfilled what is the role of local
government in Australia in engaging the community in environmental projects. It was
noted that funding problems were universal but perhaps government funding was more
likely to be taken for granted in Australia.
The process of discussion, debate, presentations and site visits over a period
of a week provided participants with opportunities to adapt ideas to their own
situations. For example, the group witnessed the power of performance art when
watching a memorable theatrical event in a forest park. This reinforced the
decision to use street theatre performers as part of the “Streets to Creeks” (
stormwater education project in
Sailors Bay, Willoughby. That event proved to be very popular with the community
and conveyed environmental messages focusing on catchment awareness.
The seminar in Florianopolis in 2002 formed the basis for developing a mutually
beneficial partnership with enormous potential. While the project was initiated by
individuals, the concept of forming an organization to facilitate an ongoing
exchange of information was supported by participants and an environmental
foundation FABA – Fundação Ambiental Brasil Australia- was initiated.
The website www.cleanwater.net.au was established to present the background and
proceedings of the seminar as well as to provide links to other sites.
The invitation to present the concept of the exchange project to the Darwin
International Landcare Conference in 2003 (http://www.landcareconference.nt.gov.au)
provided some of the group who had been in Brazil an opportunity to meet again and
to contribute to the International Landcare working group.
Significant interest in the Landcare concept came from southern and eastern Africa,
the Philippines, the Pacific and the new nation of East Timor. Facing particularly
difficult environmental problems, the delegates from East Timor were interested in
the Brazil-Australia exchange and subsequently requested information such as the
turtle protection project - Projeto Tamar (http://www.projetotamar.org.br)
from Brazil and Willoughby Council’s environment levy projects.
The second seminar in Florianopolis was scheduled in 2004, titled Sustainable
Coastal Cities Seminar (http://www.iarbrasil.org.br/cidades/english.htm).
In October 2004 representatives from The Instituto Ambiental Ratones, -a Brazilian
NGO active in environmental projects- and members of Willoughby City Council’s Bushland
Management Team signed a Co-operative Agreement (link to Cooperative Agreement)
in order to establish an ongoing exchange of ideas, information and expertise,
focussing on environmental management. This was the culmination of several years of
growing teamwork and friendships between the participants.
The venue was the Sustainable Coastal Cities held in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina,
Brazil in October 2004; it was attended by over 150 delegates and 50 speakers
including representatives from Willoughby Council and expanded on the issues
presented at the inaugural exchange seminar held in April 2002.
Key issues they presented were an overview of the Urban Bushland Plan of Management
and its achievements and the process of recruiting, training and supervising BushCare
volunteers. Other topics included environmental law, coastal management policy, dune
restoration, environmental education, with site visits to complement the talks. These
are accessible at www.iarbrasil.org.br/cidades/english.htm
Seminar sponsors included Caixa Econômica Federal, Eletrosul, Badesc, Brasilinvest,
ABRAMPA, BRDE, supported by Willoughby City Council, Fundação Pedro Jorge de Melo e
Silva, Santa Catarina Government, FLORAM, and Jurerê Beach Village. Organisers were
Escola Superior do Ministério Público da União (ESMPU), Procuradoria da República no
Estado de Santa Catarina and Ambiental Ratones Institute (IAR)
In March 2005 these unique experiences (Download Conference Paper) were presented at the Beyond Declarations: Working Partnerships for
Sustainability National Conference (http://www.gemspl.com.au/sustain2005) by a
representative from Instituto Ambiental Ratones and a representative from Willoughby
Recently an Australian volunteer worked with Instituto Ambiental Ratones helping to
put together an environmental education project for a coastal area. Currently a bush
regenerator from Willoughby is planning to spend time as a volunteer with Instituto
Ambiental Ratones in Florianopolis and an NGO worker from Brazil will help Council’s
environmental education team.
Protecting, preserving and interpreting natural areas and restoring degraded sites
increasingly can benefit from a global approach. This project has shown how worthwhile
working and learning together at a grass roots level can be.
A network of individuals and organisations can better promote ecologically
sustainable use of natural resources. More specifically it can help implement the
practical outcomes necessary to achieve that.
This partnership between Brazilians and Australians will evolve in response to the
needs of the participants and may provide solutions to our shared environmental
problems. To date it has certainly broadened the horizons of all those involved.