By Dallas Ripka , Alexandria Corneiro, and Samantha Finch
In approximately three weeks, the spring 2014 Producing the Documentary class will be leaving New York to begin our journey in Brazil. Our 10-day adventure will take us through three different locations within the country. Our first stop is the island of Ilha Grande.
Ilha Grande was discovered in 1502 by navigator André Gonçalves. At that time, the island was inhabited by Tamboios and Tupinambás indians – who called the location Ipaum Guaçú meaning “Big Island”.
The island, featuring more than 100 beaches and a mountainous forested interior, can be found about 100 miles down the coast from Rio De Janeiro and 14 miles offshore.
It was once a hideout for Dutch, French and British pirates seeking to intercept Portuguese vessels on their journey from Paraty to Rio de Janeiro. It was also a hideout for slave traders at one point. In 1850, under pressure from the British government, the Brazilian navy began patrolling the area. Later the island served as a leper colony and then a prison that housed Brazil’s political and most dangerous criminals.
During the 1900s coffee and sugar plantations were developed. However, over time vegetation took over and the local population switched to fishing as a source of income.
In an effort to preserve the island’s extraordinary natural resources, during the 1970’s three areas were set aside as parks or preserves: the State Park of Ilha Grande, Biological Reservation of South Beach and the Marine State Park of Aventureiro.
In addition, a number of regulations were implemented. Some policies included prohibiting tourist and locals from pulling out plants or cutting trees, feeding local wildlife, lighting campfires, hunting and fishing, and camping without proper licenses. Furthermore, no cars — outside of the few that are used by local authorities to perform their tasks — were permitted on the island.
In 2009, Rio state governor Sergio Cabral relaxed the 23-year-old environmental protections that limited development on Ilha Grande and 93 other islands in the state. While there are areas that are still off limits to people, the main village area continues to grow to accommodate the influx of tourist as interest in Ilha Grande grows.
In recent years, residents have complained about the number of tourist coming to the island, especially during the holiday season.
In attempt to maintain the standard of being environmentally conscious, many of the local villas have been created using sustainably-sourced wood and solar heated showers.
While our accommodations certainly sound appealing, considering that the villa is composed of 26 apartments, a recreation area, a pool and a sauna, the documentary class will be spending most of its time filming the natural beauty of the island and interviewing locals who can explain the benefits and risks of tourism.
Ilha Grande’s current mayor, Herbert Silva, was elected in 2012. Silva spoke in his campaign of plans to help boost tourism on the island while protecting its natural beauty. But some worry that the balance is tipping toward development.
The government is talking about signing privatization plans, which would close public beaches and sell them to businesses that plan to build major resorts on the land. This has prompted an outcry from environmentalists and ecologists who are opposed to the island becoming completely overrun.
Nelson Palma, editor of O Eco Ilha Grande, the island’s leading newspaper, is actively fighting these privatization plans and trying to press for sustainable tourism. While on the island we will get the chance to interview Palma.
Palma is a lead organizer in efforts to protect the island’s natural resources and endangered species. Some of these efforts include talks of developing a quota system for visitors and applying for UNESCO World Heritage status.
As in many of the world’s most beautiful places, from the Arctic to the Galapagos, Ilha Grande’s government and residents are struggling with how to mesh tourism with conservation.
Our film will show the ecological assets that make this island such a jewel and lay out the debate that will shape its future. We will aim to describe how the inevitable increase in tourism related to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics will affect the balance in this fragile and beautiful place.