The Brazilian Navy’s (MB, in Portuguese) Secretariat of the Interministerial Commission for Sea Resources celebrated 40 years in December 2019. Its mission includes promoting the sustainable exploration of living and non-living resources in Antarctica. Brazil is among the countries with a physical presence on the frozen continent.
Its base, which was destroyed by fire in 2012, carried out various analysis and research. On January 15, 2020, the new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station was inaugurated. Diálogo spoke with MB Rear Admiral Sérgio Gago Guida, Interministerial Commission for Sea Resources secretary.
Diálogo: Brazil spent millions of dollars to rebuild its base in Antarctica. What kind of return on investment can the country expect?
MB Rear Admiral Sérgio Gago Guida, Interministerial Commission for Sea Resources secretary: Brazil is globally known for respecting the treaties it adheres to. Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty establishes that a country may demonstrate their interest in Antarctica, to promote substantial scientific research activity, such as establishing a scientific base or launching a scientific expedition. This justifies the investment.
That continent is particularly important for the country, because of its influence on the climate of the Southern Hemisphere, and of the entire world, for that matter, and its living and non-living resources potential. It’s critical for a country that’s sixth in proximity to that land, to be influential on the continent while maintaining the consulting member status of the treaty. As such, we need to do research, keep a base, and carry out constant expeditions.
Diálogo: Why is it important for Brazil, or any country, to have a presence in Antarctica?
Rear Adm. Guida: The area regulated by the Antarctic Treaty is equivalent to 10 percent of our planet. Additionally, that continent is the world’s greatest “air conditioner.” We treat the Arctic and Antarctic the same, but they are in fact very different areas. While the layer of ice in the Arctic reaches 10 feet, in Antarctica the average layer is 1.9 miles. The region’s influence in regulating the planet’s climate is critical and, in these times of heated discussions on climate change, it’s crucial that we understand its influence.
The potential for non-living resources is invaluable, but the region’s living resources are equally important. Organisms that are resistant to the region’s extreme conditions may have considerable implications for humankind, such as improving agriculture and medical applications. In addition, the current economic relevance of the continent cannot be dismissed. For instance, tourism in the region will attract an estimated 75,000 visitors in the coming years, generating significant resources.
Diálogo: What were the main negative consequences of the 2012 fire at the Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station?
Rear Adm. Guida: The main one was the loss of two colleagues during the fire. The creation of the Arctic emergency modules and the inauguration of the new facilities compensated for material losses. Brazilian research never stopped. Between 2013 and 2019, we carried out our Antarctic operations as usual.
Diálogo: The new station nearly covers twice the area that was destroyed. What new activities, which weren’t possible before, will now be conducted?
Rear Adm. Guida: The previous base started off with six modules and gradually expanded to a total of 66 modules. To bring those modules together, several areas had to be covered, totaling 26,900 square feet. The structure wasn’t planned and it was expanded as needed. There were only five labs and an underdeveloped communication structure. It worked more as a shelter and prep area for samples that would be analyzed in Brazil.
The recently inaugurated structure has 226 modules, occupying a 48,400-ft2 area, based on requirements our researchers established. It has 17 labs and a robust communication capability. The samples can not only be prepared, but also analyzed on site, while the data is transmitted to research centers in Brazil. This is a major leap for the country. Our experienced researchers consider the Comandante Ferraz Station the best equipped research base on the Antarctic Peninsula, where most of the continent’s scientific stations can be found. We believe this station is at the level of the robust Antarctic program that the country developed and that it represents Brazil’s commitment to the matter.
Diálogo: Do Brazil and other countries present in Antarctica exchange information and intelligence? How does the information exchange work?
Rear Adm. Guida: The Antarctic environment is favorable to exchange. Regardless of how robust a country’s program is, cooperation is always welcome. The logistics around research programs are very costly. In 2019, we cooperated with Germany, Bulgaria, Chile, South Korea, Ecuador, Spain, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Uruguay. This information exchange happens between researchers and national Antarctic programs.
Diálogo: Is it better to preserve or to explore Antarctica?
Rear Adm. Guida: In 1998, Brazil, as a consulting member of the Antarctic Treaty, was part of the group of countries that decided against the exploration of non-living resources through 2048, through the promulgation of the Madrid Protocol. We wish to remain part of the group of nations who will evaluate this decision in the future.
Diálogo: What does the Brazilian Navy have planned for the coming years concerning the security of the Blue Amazon? (The offshore area of Brazil’s coast, under Brazil’s jurisdiction, which is similar in size and biodiversity to the Amazon rainforest.)
Rear Adm. Guida: Recent oil spills in the Blue Amazon highlighted the need for a management system in the region, to monitor increasing maritime traffic in the South Atlantic. MB prioritizes the creation of a program under the Interministerial Commission for Sea Resources to include various departments linked to the sea and to create this management system.
Additionally, an ongoing initiative called Marine Spatial Planning (PEM, in Portuguese), has already been implemented in many countries. PEM is a powerful public tool, of an operational and legal nature, critical for the governance and sovereignty of the maritime area under Brazilian jurisdiction [Blue Amazon], for the shared and sustainable use of the marine environment, the generation of profit and jobs for Brazil, and to guarantee the legal security of our waters.