Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses – Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Date of Submission: 07/06/2017
Criteria: (vii)(viii)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Brazil to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: S0219 - 02 45 W42 44 - 43 29
Ref.: 6261

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The National Park of Lençóis Maranhenses (LMNP), created by Decree 86,060, in June 2nd, 1981, is characterized as the largest field of sand dunes in South America. It comprises an area of 155 thousand hectares, of which 90 thousand consist of mobile dunes and lagoons formed by these dunes. It is located on the eastern coast of the state of Maranhão and covers three municipalities: Barreirinhas, Santo Amaro and Primeira Cruz. The LMNP is a federal protected area, and its management is carried out by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation - ICMBio.

A National Park, according to the Brazilian System of Protected Areas (BSPA) Law, has as its basic objective the preservation of natural ecosystems of great ecological relevance and scenic beauty, enabling scientific research and the development of environmental education activities, as well as recreation in direct contact with nature, such as ecological tourism (Federal Law 9.985/2000 - SNUC).

Along the 80 kilometers of the coastline of the Park, there are 600 meters to two kilometers wide beaches, 10 to 20 meters high dunes, forming long winding stretches of sand with up to 75 kilometers in length, and more than 20 kilometers inland. The appearance of crumpled sheets of these chains is the origin of the name of the Park.

The LMNP is located in the Cerrado biome, but it has a strong influence of the Caatinga and Amazon ecosystems, so that species of these three biomes are found in the Park. The region is the source of the river Preguiças, which cuts the Park flowing down to its mouth, at the Atlantic Ocean. The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park has a natural vegetation landscape that occupies predominantly the edges of its dunes. The vegetation is composed of restinga, mangrove and alluvial communities. The restinga is the predominant vegetation of the Park, representing 89.4%, while mangroves represent only 10.2% and alluvial communities (riparian forests) 0.4%.

As for the scenic attributes, the LMNP is considered one of the most beautiful destinations in the country. The Park combine miles and miles of white dunes dotted by freshwater lagoons, sometimes blue, sometimes green. One of the most known entrance portals for Lençóis Maranhenses is the city of Barreirinhas, 250 km away from São Luis, the capital of Maranhão. Well structured to welcome visitors, the city is surrounded by the dark waters of the river Preguiças - named after the presence of the mammal sloth (Bradypus variegatus), «preguiça » in portuguese.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The proposal to create the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (LMNP) was initially conceived to fill gaps in the so-called Brazilian System of Protected Areas, as well as to preserve samples of the diversity of natural ecosystems in the country, in order to ensure the continuity of evolutionary processes. It aimed at ensuring a diversified environment for future generations and assuring the self-regulation of the environment, as well as meeting the demands of the scientific community and institutions that work in the environmental area in the State of Maranhão.

Composed of large, white, sweeping dunes, at first glance Lençóis Maranhenses looks like an archetypal desert, but in fact it is not an actual one. Lying just outside the Amazon Basin, the region is subject to a regular rain season during the beginning of the year. The rains cause a peculiar phenomenon: fresh water is collected in the valleys between sand dunes and is prevented from percolating down by a layer of impermeable rock which lies underneath the sand. The resulting blue, green and black "lagoons" are surrounded by the desert-like sand, and reach their fullest between July and September.

The vegetation of the Park has the influence of three diverse and rich biomes, the Cerrado (savanna), the semi-arid Caatinga and the Amazon. In its 155 thousand hectares, it is home to diverse and fragile ecosystems, such as restinga (vegetation with marine influence), mangrove and dunes, the last ones being the main attraction of the National Park due to the lagoons formed during the rainy season.

In relation to fauna, there are four species included in the Brazilian List of Endangered Species, one bird, the guará (Eudocinus ruber), and three mammals, the otter (Lontra longicaudis), the wildcat (Leopardus tigrinus) and the manatee (Trichechus manatus). Among the endemic species, we highlight the Corvoheteromeyenia heterosclera, an abundant and unique sponge which occurrs in the temporary lakes formed on the inner face of the Lençóis Maranhenses dunes.

Much of the territory of the Park is dominated by a landscape that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet: a succession of white sand dunes whose curves, when viewed from above, resemble large sheets stretched out in the wind. According to the Paragraph 77 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, the Park has Outstanding Universal Value based on, at least, three criteria.

Criterion (vii): Along the 50 km coastline of the Park, plain beaches are found with dunes ranging from 10 to 30 meters high, forming winding chains with up to 75 kilometers long. The Park has many natural attractions (beaches, dunes, lagoons, rivers and lakes) of singular exuberance, allowing visitors to activities as trekking, baths and contemplative tourism. Among these attractions, particularly famous are its lagoons.

Another main attraction is Baixa Grande, located inside the dunes field, being considered like a typical oasis. This region presents the greatest diversity in vegetation and birds of the National Park and its lagoons are deep enough for most part of the year.

Criterion (viii): The intracratonic position of the Brazilian Mid-North (States of Maranhão and Piauí) favored the formation of a sedimentary geological structure, constituting a vast basin whose genesis is related to marine transgressions and regressions, combined with subsidence and uplift movements from the beginning of the Paleozoic to the end of the Mesozoic Eras. The area of the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is located in the Cretaceous Basin of Barreirinhas Basin, which is located on the coast of the State of Maranhão, between the cities of São Luís and Parnaíba. The crystalline basement of the Barreirinhas Basin is constituted by gneiss, granite and quartz-mica schist of pre-Cambrian age. The coastal plain of Maranhão, located in the Lençóis Maranhenses Microregion, west of the mouth of the Preguiças River, presents one of the largest recorded field of coastal dunes developed along the quaternary. This is the most important dune field on the Brazilian coast and one of the most significant in the world, interspersed with thousands of freshwater, shallow and crystalline lagoons, known as Lençóis Maranhenses.

The dunes in the Lençóis Maranhenses are formed and modified by the action of the wind, due to the constant withdrawal and deposition of sand. Over the years, the dunes migrate progressively in the same direction of prevailing winds. This continuous alteration reflects on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the lagoons, with modifications in the composition and dominance of species.

Criteria (x): The vegetation of the Park is characterized as a Primary System (natural), with particular emphasis to pioneer communities as restingas (vegetation with marine influence); mangroves (vegetation of fluvio-marine influence) and alluvial communities (vegetation with fluvial influence). In the region of the Park there are 133 vegetal species distributed in 62 families. The most representative families in number of species are Leguminosae, Myrtaceae, Rubiaceae, Apocinaceae, Arecaceae, Cyperaceae, Melastomataceae, Anacardiaceae, Chrysobalanaceae, Combretaceae, Euphorbiaceae and Malvaceae.

The floristic heterogeneity of the restinga of the Park, with representatives of different plant formations such as rainforest, cerrado, caatinga, and restinga itself, properly characterizes the region as a transition zone between the Amazonian and Northeastern biome formations.

The comparison of the flora of the Lençóis Park with other restinga sites of the Brazilian coast reveals the existence of endemic species, as the Polygala adenophora and Hybantus solccolaris. The floristic analysis revealed a phytogeographic individuality for the central Lençois area. This suggests a hypothesis of possible isolation resulting from paleoclimatic effects.

In the region of the Park there are records of 112 species of birds, belonging to 16 orders and 43 families. The Park is of great importance to the migratory species of North America, from where they arrive in the initial period of the year, the maçaricos (in English, red knot, Calidris canutus), the trinta-réis- boreal (in English, common tern, Sterna hirundo) and the marreca-de-asa-azul (in English, blue-winged teal, Anas discors). In relation to reptiles, we can highlight the tartaruga-pininga (in English, Brazilian slider, Trachemys adiutrix), an endemic species in the Lençóis Maranhenses area.

Four species found in the Park have been included in the Brazilian list of endangered species, one bird, guará (in English scarlet ibis, Eudocinus ruber), and three mammals, the lontra (in English, neotropical otter, Lontra longicaudis), the gato-do-mato (in English, oncilla or northern tiger cat, Leopardus tigrinus) and the peixe-boi-marinho (in English, West Indian manatee or sea cow, Trichechus manatus). In the mangroves, important species are the jacaretingá (in English, spectacled caiman, Caiman crocodilus), the veado-mateiro (in English, red brocket, Mazama americana) and the paca (in English, lowland paca, Cuniculus paca).

Among the endemic species, we highlight the Corvoheteromeyenia heterosclera, an abundant and unique sponge that occurs in the temporary lakes formed on the inner face of the Lençóis Maranhenses dunes.

Finally, there are records of occurrence of cachorros-do-mato brancos, albinos (in English, albino crab- eating fox, Cerdocyon thous), which could be either the result of a genetic isolation or of an adaptive process for life in the dunes areas. This event is not known to any other population of this species. There is also the possibility of occurrence of a genetically differentiated population or species, belonging to the genus Proechimys.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park preserves 155,000 hectares, of which 90,000 are made up of mobile dunes and lagoons formed by the dunes, is managed by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation - ICMBio, the federal body created in 1981 in charge of implementing actions related to the Brazilian System of Protected Areas. Its functions include proposing, implanting, managing, protecting and monitoring federal environmental protected areas. An important factor which contributes to the integrity and conservation of the site is the fact that protected areas categorized as national parks, according to Brazilian legislation, do not allow direct use of natural resources, are all public areas and do not allow a resident population to remain in the area.

The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is a refuge for species of migratory birds, endangered endemic species and unique tourist attractions of great scenic beauty, such as the crystalline lagoons of Lago Azul and Lagoa da Esperança, among others. Although the Park is part of the Cerrado biome, it has a strong influence on the Caatinga and the Amazon, being common species of these three biomes, harboring diverse and fragile ecosystems, such as restinga, mangrove and dune fields.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park has the appearance of a desert, but it differs from a desert area particularly in terms of the relatively high volume of water: up to 2000 millimeters of annual rainfall. More than 90 percent of this rainfall, however, falls between January and July, when it is quickly absorbed by the sand, raising the water table above the ground and filling the temporary ponds between the dune chains. These dunes barely move at this time of the year, due to the humidity and the lack of wind, forming lagoons with up to three meters deep. These characteristics are unique throughout South America, making the LMNP completely different from any other dunes field or a desert area. There are many dunes fields in Brazil, but not with the same characteristics of LMNP. As a comparison, the State Park of Ilha do Cardoso, at the core of the Atlantic Forest South East Reserves World Heritage Natural Site, as other parts of the Brazilian coastal beaches, features discrete dunes which do not exceed two meters high, fixed by a bush denominated pioneer vegetation of dunes This sandy environment accumulates remains of marine life and is vital for feeding various species of birds.

If the comparison is made with desert areas, the LMNP still remains very unique and different from any other similar area. According to IUCN World Heritage Desert Landscapes (2011), the world's deserts cover about a third of the Earth's surface and occur on all continents, including Antarctica, in regions with a severe shortage of moisture, as levels of precipitation are low. Another World Heritage Center, the Namib Sand Sea, is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields where fog is the main source of local water.

All that said, the combination of biological and physical characteristics, such as the exquisite formations of dunes and lagoons and the presence of endemic and endangered species, not found in any other similar national or international site, makes the National Park a unique environment, full of biodiversity and scenic landscapes.