Brazilian Maritime Islands:


Brazilian Maritime Islands:

Fernando de Noronha

Bridging Gaps and Navigating Challenges in Water, Sanitation, and Sustainable Development

By Matheus Della Tonia Marchesi, Uende Aparecida Figueiredo Gomes, and Edivando Vitor do Couto


Over the past four years, Matheus Della Tonia Marchesi, under the supervision of Professors Uende Aparecida Figueiredo Gomes and Edivando Vitor do Couto, has intensely focused on his doctoral thesis addressing the geographical inequalities in access to water and sanitation among inhabitants of Brazilian maritime islands. This research culminated in revealing the profound social and environmental challenges these islands face, highlighting urgent needs for sustainable development.

Brazil boasts around 1,200 coastal islands, covering approximately 65,000 square kilometers—0.8% of the national territory—housing about 4 million residents (2% of the national population). Despite their significance, both geographically and environmentally, these islands often remain overlooked in national discussions. Two recent articles delve into the unique challenges and importance of Brazilian maritime islands.

Source: MARCHESI, M. D. T; DO COUTO, E. V.; GOMES, U. A. F, 2023.

Distinct Characteristics and Challenges

Brazilian maritime islands have unique environmental, social, and economic characteristics that differentiate them from mainland areas. Geographic isolation, resource limitations, and coastal influences present significant challenges for these island communities. These islands are spread across 15 federal units, 33 intermediate geographical regions, 51 immediate geographical regions, and 150 municipalities. While some islands are part of metropolitan regions, such as Florianópolis on Santa Catarina Island, Vitória Island, and São Luís Island, many others are remote, located far from major urban centers.

São Luís Island

A notable feature is the large number of islands within environmental protection units, crucial for preserving Brazil’s unique fauna and flora. The Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, for instance, was recognized as a Natural Heritage Site of Humanity in 2001 and hosts the largest concentration of tropical seabirds in the western Atlantic Ocean. However, the diversity and extent of these islands also expose significant information gaps that hinder effective territorial management. There is a dire need for improved cartographic data and information systems to understand, manage, and monitoring these territories.

Social and Environmental Problems

The inhabitants of Brazilian maritime islands face severe challenges in accessing basic services. The lack of adequate water supply and sanitation facilities highlights a stark reality: over 730,000 residents lack improved drinking water, and 2.2 million lack improved sanitation. These issues are particularly acute in the North and Northeast regions, where geographical and infrastructural inequalities are most pronounced.

Vitória Island

Access to these essential services is not uniform; significant disparities exist within and between different federal states and between urban and rural areas. For instance, rural areas suffer from even lower coverage rates for both water and sanitation services. About 56.6% of rural inhabitants lack access to drinking water, compared to 7.9% in urban areas. This gap is a violation of human rights and underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions.

Addressing the Gaps: Public and Private Sector Opportunities

Public policies and government regulations are essential to tackle the unique problems faced by island communities. Specific legislation should be enacted to recognize the distinct needs of these territories, promoting economic growth, environmental conservation, and social welfare. To address these challenges, both public and private sectors must play active roles.

Investments in local infrastructure are critical. Improved data collection and monitoring mechanisms are necessary to track progress and formulate evidence-based policies. The private sector can contribute significantly by investing in sustainable tourism, renewable energy projects, and modernizing local industries. These efforts can create jobs, generate income, and ensure sustainable resource use, ultimately enhancing resilience and reducing vulnerabilities, for the protection of these unique environmental, social, and economic territories

Solutions for Sustainable Development

Effective solutions require a multifaceted approach. Integrating management and governance structures will ensure efficient resource allocation. Local and regional authorities must collaborate with national agencies to implement comprehensive strategies addressing both immediate and long-term needs. Public-private partnerships can be instrumental in providing the necessary funding and expertise. Strengthening community organizations and building participatory policies are fundamental strategies for sustainable development in these territories

The preservation of these unique territories is essential for the survival of several species and ecosystems. Environmental conservation efforts should focus on protecting the unique ecosystems of these islands. This includes establishing more protected areas and enhancing existing ones. Sustainable tourism practices can also play a role in conserving natural resources while providing economic benefits to local communities.


Addressing the challenges of Brazilian maritime islands demands coordinated efforts from the Brazilian state and all sectors of society. By fostering collaborations between the government and local communities, we can develop strategies that address immediate needs and pave the way for long-term sustainable development. This approach will not only preserve the unique ecosystems of Brazilian maritime islands but also improve the quality of life for their inhabitants, ensuring that these communities thrive for generations to come.


MARCHESI, Matheus Della Tonia; DO COUTO, Edivando Vitor; GOMES, Uende Aparecida Figueiredo. Geographical inequalities in access to water and sanitation among Brazilian maritime islands’ inhabitants. Applied Geography, 2023, 161: 103120.

MARCHESI, Matheus Della Tonia; DO COUTO, Edivando Vitor; GOMES, Uende Aparecida Figueiredo. ILHAS MARÍTIMAS BRASILEIRAS: LACUNAS DE GEOINFORMAÇÃO E A IMPORTÂNCIA PARA A GESTÃO TERRITORIAL. Caminhos de Geografia, 2024, 25.98.


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