Two Countries One Problem – Industry Uncontrolled
The contrast between the states of New Jersey in the United States and Maranhão in Brazil cannot be greater. In Maranhão, Brazil, the small town of Panaquatira, the larger town of São José de Ribamar, and the city of São Luís would shock most visitors from the U.S. They lack proper sanitation, litter fouls most roadsides and intertidal areas, theft and violence abound, and by all appearances poverty pervades all but the most exclusive communities. New Jersey suffers the same problems, but on a much smaller scale. Here in Brazil, most people endure these harsh conditions while only a few don’t. In New Jersey, most don’t, and only a few do.
It’s a big difference, yet not the strongest contrast between these places. Maranhão is mostly rural, while New Jersey of course is anything but. Maranhão and the neighboring state of Para include a wilderness of mangrove swamp of international recognition that is twice the size of New Jersey and has been designated a RAMSAR site. It also includes the largest continuous band of mangrove in the world, and is peppered with secluded wild beaches where thousands of red knots winter. New Jersey includes biologically significant wildlands in the Pinelands and Delaware Bayshore, but sadly most wild areas in the state suffer from a cancerous growth of unplanned suburban development.
The contrast holds true when one considers conservation in both states. In New Jersey, our considerable wealth supports a well-developed and popular conservation community. Fully one out of every four of NJ citizens takes part in some form of wildlife-related recreation. Seventy percent of people living along Delaware Bay express support for conservation irrespective of their political affiliation. No comparable opinion surveys of the residents of Maranhão exist, but one can guess residents focus more directly on survival. Most struggle to lift themselves or their children to a better economic condition or higher education. It is not unlikely or unreasonable that conservation is a luxury they cannot afford.
Yet the reality for biologists in both states is similar in an important way. In both places industry drains natural resource wealth to the detriment of both wildlife and rural people.
The people of the United States, including those in New Jersey, once had a strong conservation ethic that integrated well with the rural community. Farmers, foresters and wildlife biologists worked together to create an effective coalition that ultimately created great advances in conservation: Teddy Roosevelt’s expansion of the Forest Service, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s expansion of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Richard Nixon’s creation of the Endangered Species Act. These were great advances made possible by a powerful alliance of conservationists that stopped politically powerful industries from short-sighted exploitation of our forests, farms, fisheries and other sources of natural wealth. Both wildlife and the economy of rural communities benefitted.
But now, alliance has been crushed and industry can’t be stopped. For the disbelieving reader, consider the exploitation of horseshoe crab blood for lysate. This $200 million dollar industry (this figure is murky, as the industry won’t allow an open examination of its income or methods) revolves around this precious biochemical, which is used to detect biological contamination in nearly all medical devices and contributes to each and every one of our lives. Demand grows—as does profits—every year.
Despite this largesse, the industry contributes nothing to the recovery of a horseshoe crab population previously decimated by the fishing industry. Government scientists estimate the time to recovery for the crabs at over 60 years, and the companies bleeding the crabs for the drug companies are contributing to the lackluster recovery. It is estimated that one out of every three crabs they bleed does not survive the procedure. (This peer-reviewed estimate is higher than industry estimates, as one would expect.) Nor do these international drug companies provide any useful jobs or inject funds into the local economies of the Delaware bayside communities in which the crab breeds. That way they keep costs low and profits high. Those communities, by the way, are among the poorest in both New Jersey and Delaware.
How can these international drug companies get away with draining away the wealth that should belong to the people of Delaware Bayshore communities? How can they not participate in the recovery of the very animal on which their profit depends? This story is a common one throughout the history of conservation and the answer is simple.
Because we let them.