The Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro has revoked regulations that protect tropical mangroves and other fragile coastal ecosystems.
Environmental groups have called the move a “crime”.
Mangroves are an important protection against climate change.
President Bolsonaro’s policies and rhetoric on the environment have caused widespread alarm, and the far-right leader has been accused of encouraging illegal activity.
The decision removed so-called “permanent protection zones” created in 2002 to preserve Brazil’s many tropical mangroves and the sand-dune scrublands. It was taken by the National Environmental Council, led by controversial Environment Minister Ricardo Salles.
Environmental groups say the removal of the regulations will allow property developers to clear large areas of natural habitats for tourism, which could lead to their destruction.
“These areas are already under intense pressure from real-estate development,” said Mario Mantovani, head of environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica.
“The 2002 regulations at least protected them from further destruction,” he told the AFP news agency, calling their repeal “a crime against society”.
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One acre (4,000 sq m) of mangrove forest absorbs nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide as an acre of Amazon rainforest.
Since Mr Bolsonaro took power in January 2019, Brazil has been hit by environmental crises including an escalation of deforestation and wildfires.
This is not the first time Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has been involved in controversy since taking the job.
In a leaked recording of an April cabinet meeting with the president, Mr Salles said the coronavirus pandemic was a chance to roll back environmental regulations “now that the media’s only talking about Covid”.
“Even as we witness record environmental devastation and Brazil is in flames, Salles dedicates his time to promoting even more destruction,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement on the new measures.
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