Nature’s Brigade, drumming up attention for Manatees.

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One evening at the SESC event Povos do Mar, I was rushing to the restaurant before it closed for the night, when I was stopped in my tracks by a fantastic show from the group Brigada da Natureza. Take a look at the video below.

Aren’t they great! The poem the young man recites at the end, tells of the need for us to live in harmony with nature, of how the destruction of the forests shows ignorance and a lack of respect for creation, that we must stop complaining and act from the heart. Nature is asking for our love, care and dedication. Wise words!

I couldn’t stay to chat with the children or I’d have missed my dinner so, as I knew the group were connected to the Manatee (Peixe Boi) rescue centre, which is situated in the grounds of the hotel and, as the centre had been shut when I went last year, I decided to visit it the following day.

I arrived just at opening time and was met by a lovely young man called Wilson who works as a volunteer at the centre before school and who I recognised as having been in the band the previous night.

Saulo from the NGO Aquasis and Wilson from the project Brigada da Natureza

Wilson explained that the aim of the centre is to reintroduce the rescued manatees to the wild and this means keeping human contact to an absolute minimum, including by the staff caring for them. Therefore, the tanks containing the manatees are not open to the public. However, they do have an information centre with lots of pictures and interesting artefacts and all the members of staff I met, like Saulo in the photo with Wilson, were very welcoming, informative and nice to talk with.

The NGO Aquasis, who run the rescue centre, have done an incredible amount of work to raise awareness about these mammals along the coast line of Ceará, especially in the areas where manatees (Trichechus manatus) are most commonly found, including Icapui, just down the coast from us.

There have been two manatees stranded at Prainha in the time I have lived here. This was prior to the opening of the centre in Fortaleza and although both manatees were rescued, they had to be taken to a unit in the next state, which must have been a long and terrifying journey for the poor young things.

On of the main pressures on manatees is habitat loss. They are herbivores, eating mostly sea grass, which they can do at an impressive rate, consuming up to a tenth of their body weight in a day. This is even more impressive when you know that adults reach on average between 2 and a half and 3 meters in length and easily weigh 500 kilos or more (manatees are related to elephants!).

Manatees like to give birth in the calmer waters of estuaries or mangroves. They need to reach the surface to breath and, as the calf feeds exclusively on its mother’s milk during the first few months of life, it is vital that they remain close and in calm water until the calf has become a stronger swimmer.

Model of a mother and calf.

As mangroves are cut back, the increased wave action on the remaining area brings in large amounts of sand, making the water too shallow for the mother to enter, leaving her no choice but to give birth to her calf at sea, where the stronger wave action can lead to the calf being washed away from its mother and sometimes ending up on a beach.

This is where Aquasis come in. People all along the coastline now know to call the NGO when an animal is stranded, it will then get the care and attention it needs to hopefully return it to the wild again. The NGO comes out for any marine animal stranding. Sadly we do occasionally get whales and dolphins here too.

The Brigada da Natureza (Nature’s Brigade) is another facet of the NGO. Open to children and teenagers from deprived backgrounds living in the area surrounding the rescue centre, the project has three aims: To improve the individual’s self-esteem, To teach cooperation and thirdly, Environmental education, all through sports, games and the arts. Fantastic!

I’d say Wilson is a wonderful ambassador for the work of the project. I was so impressed by him, not only by his knowledge of the project and the mantees but by his ability to convey his knowledge to me in such an engaging way, he was an absolute delight to speak with, and I am only sorry I didn’t get to meet more of the group Brigada da Natureza to tell them, as I told Wilson, just how impressed I was with the fantastic drumming show they had put on the night before.

You can find out more about the NGO Aquasis and their projects in the region, including the children, manatees, birdlife and dolphins, by going to the English version of their website, which you can find by clicking here