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Natural Conditions and Environmental Impacts in a Coastal Hydrographic Basin in the Brazilian Amazon A. Gorayeb†, M. A. Lombardo‡ and L. C. C. Pereira∞ †Dept. of Geography Federal University of Ceará, Fortaleza, 60833-500, Brazil Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
‡Center for Environmental Analysis and Planning State University of São Paulo, Rio Claro, 13506-900, Brazil Email: email@example.com
∞Coastal Studies Institute Federal University of Pará, Bragança, 68370-000, Brazil Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABSTRACT Gorayeb, A., Lombardo, M. A. and Pereira, L. C. C., 2011. Natural Conditions and Environmental Impacts in a Coastal Hydrographic Basin in the Brazilian Amazon. Journal of Coastal Research, SI 64 (Proceedings of the 11th International Coastal Symposium), 1340 – 1344. Szczecin, Poland, ISSN 0749-0208 The main focus of this paper was an integrated analysis of the Caeté hydrographic basin, in eastern Amazonia, and the evaluation of the levels of environmental degradation. The study was based on a landscape approach, with four main technical stages: literature and cartographic research; questionnaire-based interviews in the field; laboratory analyses of water quality; data analysis. The main problems in the region include the lack of public sanitation, unregulated land ownership, inadequate management of forestry resources, conflicts over access to water resources, and the indiscriminate exploitation of subterranean water sources. The environmental problems observed within the study area contribute to negative social processes, such as the loss of traditional cultural values and a decline in environmental sensitivity. Reversing such problems will require fundamental changes in national and international policies, and the socio-economic structure of Amazonian populations. It is hoped that the present study will contribute to the demystification of the popular image of the region, reinforced by the international media, as a vast area of exuberant and homogeneous vegetation, exotic animals, and low population densities, in which the major problem is the ongoing increase in deforestation levels. The Amazon region is, in fact, far more complex than this common stereotype suggests. In this sense, the Amazon basin, and especially its coastal zone, must be understood as a complex and diverse region, with a differentiated array of problems and capabilities, which requires an integrated approach to the solution of social and environmental questions. ADDITIONAL INDEX WORDS: Management, Water quality, Brazilian Amazon Coast
INTRODUCTION In the Brazilian Amazon, the management of the coastal zone is a fundamental priority for the adequate planning and administration of the diverse sectors of the Atlantic seaboard. The region’s coastal hydrological resources, in particular its small- to medium-scale river basins, are vulnerable to the ongoing expansion of both traditional and rural populations, and urban areas, which interfere directly in its natural resources and ecological processes (Szlafsztein and Sterr, 2007; Gorayeb et al., 2009; Nicolodi et al., 2009). The hydrographic basins of the Amazon region were the target of Brazilian political policies, in the early 1960s, which provided a series of incentives for the occupation of the land and the exploitation of natural resources, which have had far-reaching repercussions that have persisted to the present day (Young, 1998; Ab’Saber, 2004). In general, the policies and programs of the Brazilian government were based on the assumption that the Amazon Basin is a single, homogeneous macro-system of forests and waterways, and prioritized the substitution of natural ecosystems by productive activities, such as extensive cattle ranching, the cultivation of export crops, and large-scale mining projects, all of which have had significant impacts on the environment (Becker, 2005). These initiatives also stimulated an unprecedented process of urban growth. The Brazilian Institute for Geography
and Statistics (IBGE) has shown that the urban population of the Amazon region increased from 3.5% of the total inhabitants in 1970 to 70% in 2000 (Becker, 1995, 1998, 2004). In 2010, the total population in Amazon region was of 15,865,678 inhabitants. This explosive population growth has had a series of negative consequences for the natural environment, in particular deforestation, but also the over-exploitation of natural resources, such as superficial and subterranean water supplies. The diagnosis of landscape quality is a fundamentallyimportant tool for regional planning and the economic and social development of coastal regions. In this context, the present study aims to contribute to the development of an effective regional planning approach, in which the human populations are seen as an integral component of the natural environment. Focusing on a coastal hydrographic basin representative of the eastern Amazonian region, this study provides an integrated analysis of the landscape and the current levels of environmental degradation.
STUDY AREA The hydrographic basin of the Caeté River is located in the northeast of the Brazilian state of Pará (Figure 1). The main river is 149 km long and the basin covers a total area of 2,195 km². The river flows into the Caeté-Urumajó Bay, which is dominated by semidiurnal macrotides.
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The basin is formed mainly of Tertiary and Quaternary sediments of the Barreiras Group and sandy-clay deposits of the Quaternary. Geomorphologically, it encompasses a low-lying coastal plateau of no more than 80 m in altitude, which turns into a flat coastal plain. The region’s climate is humid equatorial (Oliveira Junior et al., 1999). The original vegetation has been extensively altered, and is currently characterized by a predominance of pastures, plantations and secondary forests. The estuarine sector is dominated by mangrove forests, which cover 95% of the area (Souza-Filho and El-Robrini, 1996).
METHODS The first step in the evaluation of environmental impacts and the identification of the factors responsible for the degradation of natural systems was the examination of the cartographic material and literature available for the region. Fieldwork was conducted initially for the reconnaissance of the study area (December, 2004, and January, 2005), and subsequently for the formal interviewing (using questionnaires) of the leaders of the 17 riverside communities identified during the initial phase (February and March, 2005). The data collected during these excursions were processed qualitatively (Patton, 1987; Gummesson, 2000), before being incorporated in the general results of the study, especially in the thematic environmental impacts and integrated landscape analysis.
Figure 1. Geographic location of the Caeté River basin in northern Brazil, and the sites at which water samples were collected. Samples of surface water were collected at seven sites within the Caeté basin (points P-1 to P-7 in Figure 1) for the analysis of water quality. A sample of subterranean water was collected at a one site (P-4). All 7 sites were georeferenced using a Garmin 72 GPS. The sampling points were chosen according to their different uses and proximity to urban centers (Figure 1). Water samples (surface and subterranean) were collected every two months between February, 2006, and February, 2007. The collection and storage of the samples followed the guidelines established by both the Brazilian legislation (CONAMA resolution number 369 of 2005, and Health Ministry directive number 518 of 2004) and the World Health Organization (WHO, 2006). Analyses were based on the standard procedures of Strickland and Parsons (1972), Grasshoff et al. (1999) and APHA et al. (2005).
The integrated landscape analysis, which had a systemic focus, was based on a set of methods and technical-analytical procedures which permit the characterization of the structure and dynamics of the landscape (Rodriguez, 1984, 1991, 1998; Rodriguez et al., 2004). Following this approach, the local landscape was subdivided according to its geosystems, which form homogeneous, well-differentiated subunits, based on their structure and spatial dynamics (Sotchava, 1977). The criteria for the landscape analysis were based on the concept of landscape units, which identify the natural and semi-natural elements of the landscape that trigger the anthropogenic conversion of the terrain. These criteria are based on the principles of relative homogeneity, repeatability, and analogy, and contribute to the establishment of landscape types, according to the scale used, and the degree of diversity and complexity of the landscape.
RESULTS Water quality of the Caeté River Physical (color and turbidity) and chemical (biochemical oxygen demand [BOD], dissolved oxygen [DO], ammoniacal nitrogen, nitrates, nitrites, phosphates, pH, and dissolved iron) variables were analyzed, and the concentrations of chlorophyll-a and thermotolerant coliforms were measured. The study period covered both the rainy season – the first half of the year – and the dry season of the eastern Amazon coastal zone. The values recorded for dissolved nutrients (nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia) and BOD were within the tolerance limits recommended by both Brazilian legislation and the World Health Organization. The maximum tolerable levels are 10 mg/L and 50 mg/L (Brazilian legislation and WHO, respectively) for nitrates, 1.0 mg/L and 0.2mg/L for nitrites, 3.7 mg/L and 1.5 mg/L for ammonia, and 5 mg/L (Brazilian legislation only) for BOD. Neither entity provides a standard for phosphate levels. Similarly, the samples were within the national and international limits for the parameters DO (≥ 5 mg/L under Brazilian legislation, Bragança public water supply, P-6), color (<15 uH under Brazilian and WHO guidelines, Santa Luzia do Pará public water supply, P-4), and thermotolerant coliform concentrations (<1000 NMP/100mL for water subjected to conventional treatment, under Brazilian legislation, main river and tributaries, P-1, P-2, P-3, P-5, and P-7) However, the analyses indicated that the public water supplies (P-4 and P-6) are of sub-standard quality for a number of different parameters, based on the standards established by the Brazilian Health Ministry and the WHO. At P-6, for example, water color varied from 98 to 250uH, well above the recommended 15uH, while turbidity reached a maximum of 7.5 NTU, in comparison with the value of 5 NTU recommended by the Brazilian legislation. Chlorophyll-a concentrations at P-6 were also above the maximum limit of 10 µg/L established in Brazil. At P-4 and P-6, thermotolerant coliform concentrations were between 2 and 1100 NMP/100mL (Brazilian and WHO guidelines require a complete absence of these bacteria), while the pH was between 4.6 and 6.9, as against recommended intervals of 6-9 (both Brazilian legislation) and 6.5-9.5 (WHO). In fact, all other sites returned relatively acid pH values, with annual means of between 5 and 6. Dissolved iron levels at both P-4 and P-6 were also above the 0.3 mg/L recommended by the Brazilian legislation. In addition, the Curizinho River (P-5), a left-bank tributary of the Caeté, which drains the town of Santa Luzia do Pará, returned a value of 4.8 mg/L for DO, which is lower than the Brazilian standard. During the course of the study period, the concentrations of nitrate, dissolved iron, and chlorophyll-a increased significantly
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during the rainy season, whereas the highest values for color (230 uH) and turbidity (7.5 NTU) were recorded at P-6 in December, a month in which virtually no precipitation was recorded. Overall, the values recorded for thermotolerant coliforms, DO, and BOD were higher than the levels recommended under Brazilian and international (WHO) guidelines in February, which corresponds to the transition between the dry and the rainy seasons. The results of the analyses presented here reveal that a number of different sectors of the Caeté basin – especially the public water supplies of Bragança and Santa Luzia do Pará – are characterized by substandard water quality according to both national and international guidelines. There is a clear need for the implementation of a systematic program of monitoring associated with effective measures for the reduction of pollution, given the negative implications of poor water quality for local biodiversity and public health standards in both rural and urban populations.
Environmental Impacts in the coastal basin of the Caeté River The environmental impacts identified in the Caeté basin are the result of the burgeoning population density of Bragança and Santa Luzia do Pará, which has made increasing demands on urban infrastructure and services. The growth in the exploitation of natural resources, combined with a lack of effective public policies, has been the primary factor provoking environmental problems. This study indicates that the basin’s two main urban centers are its primary potential sources of pollution. This pollution is the result of inadequate urban infrastructure and public sanitation, seen principally in (i) open-air deposits of solid waste; (ii) the complete lack of a public system for the adequate disposal of industrial or domestic effluents, or toxic hospital waste; (iii) the discharge from the cleansing of the filters and decanters of the Bragança water treatment plant flows directly into the town’s water supply; and (iv) the lack of adequate measures for the environmental control of the fueling stations located along the banks of the Caeté River.
Additional sources of environmental degradation were observed in rural areas, in particular (i) the illegal dredging of sand and gravel from the riverbed and the extraction of clay from floodplain areas; (ii) the illegal capture of ornamental fish; (iii) the presence of artisanal charcoal ovens along the margin of the river, and (iv) deforestation for the extraction of firewood, cattle ranching, palm oil plantations, and subsistence agriculture, as well as the expansion of small- and medium-sized urban centers.
Integrated Landscape Analysis The current environmental and social conditions of the Caeté hydrographic basin reflect the ongoing degradation of local landscapes through the gradual degradation of water quality and reserves, deforestation, soil erosion, and the silting up of river channels. Based on these observations, the different landscapes were classified according to their degree of anthropogenic impact, ranging from low to very high, based on levels of urbanization, the infrastructure of the principal towns, the geo-environmental aspects of the landscape units, deforestation levels, water pollution, and the intensity of the exploitation of natural resources (Figure 2). The best-conserved portion of the basin is the estuarine plain in the northern extreme, although even this area can be considered relatively unstable, due to its semidiurnal macrotidal regime. The integrated landscape analysis indicates that the natural environment of the coastal Caeté basin is essentially stable, given that most of the terrain is located on sediments of the Barreiras group. However, the inadequate management of forestry resources, combined with the pedological characteristics of the basin, has caused intense modifications of natural ecological processes, resulting in profound alterations of hydrological and hydrographic parameters, and local biodiversity. These problems can be observed most clearly at the many points in the basin – on both the lower and upper course of the Caeté River – where onceperennial tributaries are now intermittent, with water flowing only up to the middle of the dry season.
Figure 2. General conditions recorded across the landscapes of the Caeté River basin in eastern Brazilian Amazonia. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 64, 2011 1342
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DISCUSSION The results of the present study indicate that the hydrological resources of the Caeté Basin are being degraded by the lack of a basic public sanitation system and the inadequate management of natural resources, associated with the local population’s rudimentary understanding of environmental issues. Scientific studies have identified similar patterns throughout the World ever since the end of the Second World War (Hyde, 1951), and most recent research has been conducted in developing countries (Parikh, 1977; Woldemicael, 2000; Jurdi et al., 2002; Cofie et al., 2004). The erratic urbanization process provoked by the unplanned expansion of the population has had drastic consequences for the quality of both surface and subterranean water supplies within the Caeté basin. The over-exploitation of these supplies, and the associated patterns of contamination and pollution (both diffuse and concentrated), are consistent with those observed in coastal basins in other regions worldwide (Bowonder, 1986; Cropper and Griffiths, 1994; McMichael, 2000; Tang et al., 2005; Gorayeb et al., 2006; Menezes et al., 2009). The analysis of water quality indicated that the principal problem within the study is the public water supplies of the basin’s principal urban centers (Bragança and Santa Luzia do Pará). The main considerations are (i) the color and turbidity of the water, which hamper treatment; (ii) acidity, which may affect the physical integrity of the piping and other installations; (iii) high levels of iron which, during some parts of the year, may alter the coloration of the water, and, most critically (iv) the high concentrations of coliform bacteria and chlorophyll-a recorded in the local bodies of water. High concentrations of thermotolerant coliforms were found in public water supplies, in particular those derived from surface water (Chumucuí River in Bragança) during the rainy season. This reconfirms the lack of basic public sanitation, as observed in the Caeté estuary and the Cereja River by Guimarães et al. (2009), and the urban areas of the Caeté Basin (Bragança and Santa Luzia do Pará) by Gorayeb et al. (2009). These problems are not restricted to these areas, however, given the interconnection of the drainage system and the potential for the diffusion of pollutants not only downriver from their source, but in some cases upstream, due to the effects of the macrotides (Pereira et al., 2010). In the coastal region of eastern Amazonia, Lopes et al. (1999) observed that the erosion of deforested areas resulted in the loss of an average of 144.5 t/ha of soil and 1.8 t/ha of organic matter per annum. Given this potential, and the diversity of vegetation types, topography, climatic conditions, and pedological attributes within the area, there is a clear need for the development and application of practical measures for the conservation and management of soils in order to protect them from erosion. The unsystematic exploitation of soils in the Caeté basin has provoked a series of environmental problems, repeating the pattern observed in other hydrographic basins worldwide (Fritsch, 1995; Conway and Lathrop, 2005). Torres and Gállarraga (2001) have shown that the arbitrary exploitation of soils in the Amazon region may result in significant environmental consequences at local, regional, and global levels. The occupation of land in the Caeté region is regulated by two federal legal mechanisms. One is the Forestry Code of 1965, which determines the permanent protection of the natural vegetation associated with freshwater springs and river margins, and mangrove forests. The second is the decree of 2005, which created the Caeté-Taperaçu Marine Extractive Reserve, located on the lower Caeté. This legislation limits the expansion
of agricultural land to 20% of the total area, and guarantees the sustainable use of natural resources by the traditional population resident within the area of the estuary. Brazilian extractive reserves are aimed at the preservation of local biodiversity while simultaneously promoting the development of traditional local communities, based on the assumption that the sustainable exploitation of natural resources can contribute to the effective protection of the forest from commercial interests (Benatti et al., 2003; Nunes and Costa, 2004; Ferreira et al., 2005). However, in the upper Caeté basin, major landowners, cattle ranchers, and timber merchants all contribute to ongoing deforestation. Overall, local economic conditions and social demands have placed intense pressures on the region’s natural resources. In practice, then, coastal management strategies, whether on a local or regional scale, may be unable to reduce or eradicate the damaging effects on either the environment or its local communities, as demonstrated by the analyses of Szlafsztein (2009).
CONCLUSIONS The natural dynamics of the Caeté hydrographic basin are suffering ongoing alterations due to unregulated urban expansion and the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources in rural areas, which results in unprecedented structural modifications of the local landscape. The integrated analysis of local landscapes revealed that the current conditions of the hydrographic basin of the Caeté River are typical of those of the Amazon coastal region, and that the democratic management of these fundamental units must be considered essential for the development of effective regional planning measures. The implementation of an effective management plan for the Caeté basin will depend on the deactivation and the improvement of the municipal dumps, the provision of an adequate system of effluent disposal, the construction of a water treatment plant in Santa Luzia do Pará and the restoration and amplification of the Bragança facility. The removal of economic activities from areas of permanent preservation and the strict application of the federal legislation on deforestation will also be essential to the success of any such initiative.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We are grateful to the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) for financing this project through the CT-Agro Program (process number 552760/2005-6) and the Universal Projects Program (process number 471985/2004-0). The authors Pereira and Costa would also like to thank CNPq and CAPES for research grants. We are also indebted to Stephen Ferrari for careful correction of the English.
Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 64, 2011 1344
Published on Sep 7, 2011
Published on Sep 7, 2011
The main focus of this paper was an integrated analysis of the Caeté hydrographic basin, in eastern Amazonia, and the evaluation of the lev...