Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency and public prosecutors’ offices in 15 states have suspended the operations of plantations and issued millions of dollars in fines after deforestation reached record levels in the Atlantic Forest.
In the northeastern state of Ceará, authorities have embargoed 568 hectares (ha) and levied fines totalling R$2.44 million (US$623,000) due to illegal deforestation for coconut and cashew monocultures.
In the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and Piauí, Ibama has embargoed a further one thousand hectares and applied fines totalling R$8.5 million ($2.2 million).
The Atlantic Forest, a biodiversity hotspot that includes tropical and dry forests and is home to many endemic and endangered species, extends along 17 states in the Atlantic coast of Brazil and inland as far as Paraguay and Argentina.
The biome has lost around 90% of its original cover following centuries of intense agricultural activity and urbanisation. Almost three quarters of Brazil’s population lives in the Atlantic Forest area.
Despite a recent return to average levels of deforestation, the 2015-2016 period saw the loss of 29,000ha of native forests in the biome, a 57.7% increase over the previous year and the highest level of deforestation in over a decade.
SOS Mata Atlantica, a Brazilian NGO dedicated to the biome’s conservation, believes that most of the deforestation in the Atlantic Forest is illegal. In an interview with Mongabay, Mario Mantovani, director of Public Policies at the NGO, noted that the Atlantic Forest is the only biome in Brazil that has a specific law, that allows deforestation only for public use or social interest. “If some of it is legal, it’s certainly a very small percentage,” he said.
Agricultural activity continues to play a role in the conversion of native forests in the biome. In Minas Gerais, the state with the second highest levels of Atlantic Forest deforestation in Brazil, charcoal production and eucalyptus monocultures have been identified as the main drivers of forest loss in recent years.
For Mantovani, the recent weakening of environmental laws in Brazil, including changes to the Forest Code, helps explain the worsening situation. “At this moment chaos reigns in Brasilia, […] the agribusiness lobby and the federal government attack, in an orchestrated fashion and in record time, our environmental protection systems,” he said.