Brazil, Brazil 2017, Expeditions and Travels, Red Knot, Shorebird, Travel

On the Birds and Boats of Brazil


Previous Post


Our 26 ft Cape Dory Sailboat in Oxford, MD

Birds and Boats

I am a biologist that loves the birds and boats of northern Brazil. For good reason. In addition to the enormous bird diversity inherent in all tropical environments, the northern coast of Brazil in the states of Para and Maranhao stands out as one of the most important shorebird wintering areas in the western hemisphere.  It’s an amazingly vast area of mostly unpopulated beaches, intertidal sand and mud flats and mangrove forests. This ecological wonder also produces an abundance of fish and shellfish, on which the birds depend.  It also supports a network of traditional villages and they depend on boats.

Like most fishermen of Brazil, those of  Maranhao and Para build sturdy boats with the flourish of the South American.  They and their skilled shipwrights build the boats with fine tropical hardwoods that last forever in marine environments.  The variety of shapes come from the waters they ply,  everything from gale force ocean waves to placid tropical rivers, so they curve in nearly all directions.    And the casual observer will find few of the bland white hulls of the mid-Atlantic Fisher. No these boat literally glow with color.  No wonder they are well known throughout Brazil.

This gallery below is an homage to these beautiful and eminently useful boats.


Conservation of Resources for People and Birds

Fortunately for these fishers this section of the northern coast of Brazil is partially protected by the federal government of Brazil through a novel conservation system known as Extrativista Reserves.  These reserves protect natural resources, birds, fish and shellfish for thier own sake and for the traditional villages that depend upon them.  I described this important and innovative conservation system in more detail here and here. This link takes you to  ICMBio, the Brazilian federal agency that manages them.

The fishers of this tropical coast depend on the fishery and the Extractivist Reserves protect both from their main threat, the international fishing fleets.  With their industrial level gear, they can ruin a local fishery and cause catastrophe among these rural and relatively powerless people within a few years.  It has happened all around the world most famously in the failed state of Somalia.

Rarely has conservation been so important to both wildife and the people living with them


The Brazilian federal agency, ICMBio protect “Extractavista” or extractive reserves, natural areas with abundant natural resources dedicated to to native people in the Amazon or traditional communities of the coast of Para and Maranhao, the location of our study. Map by Dan Merchant



Pictures in the gallery below were taken by Larry Niles, Joe Smith, Christophe Buiden, Yann Rochepault Stephanie Feigin and Mark Peck in 2014, 2016 and 2017 during expeditions studying shorebirds and their habitat.