The ancestral origins of the residents of coastal Brazil are diverse; some come from indigenous heritage, others have European ancestry, while still others are descended from African slaves. Yet many of them share an important similarity: their families have made a living fishing off the Abrolhos region for centuries.
“My father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all fishermen. I started fishing when I was eight years old. My own son is now fishing,” says Albino Neves, a middle-aged man of indigenous ancestry. Yet today long-standing livelihoods that rely on the ocean are threatened like never before by destructive activities.
Fortunately, these unprecedented threats have led to important progress for marine protection in the Abrolhos region. Through the work of Conservation International (CI) and local partners, conservation successes are proving that especially for the younger generation, conservation and livelihoods go hand in hand.
As fish multiply in the no-take zones, they spill over into the regions where fishing is permitted. Since 2000, CI’s monitoring efforts have demonstrated an increase in fish abundance of up to 300 percent for some commercially important species.
The waters off of Brazil’s Bahia state are thought to contain the most diverse concentration of marine life in the South Atlantic. The vibrant corals and extensive mangroves shelter hundreds of species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Many of these fish live their entire lives within a few kilometers of the shore, providing the main source of protein for 80 percent of local communities.
As in other coastal marine ecosystems around the world, destructive activities like industrial fishing and shrimp farming, oil drilling and dredging threaten Abrolhos’ natural abundance and human communities. Even within protected areas like the Abrolhos National Marine Park, restrictions can be challenging to enforce. With only one patrol boat to cover the 88,250-hectare (almost 218,000-acre) park, illegal fishing continues to threaten the longevity of the region’s fishery.
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“The ocean is a big place, and it’s difficult to enforce rules,” says Rodrigo Moura, the ecosystem services coordinator for CI’s marine program in Abrolhos. “So you need to win people over by finding win-wins between livelihoods and nature.”
Fishermen + No-Take Zones
In Abrolhos, CI works mainly through a grassroots network of nearly 45 partner organizations that collaborate on scientific data collection, outreach efforts and other activities to facilitate conservation action.
By showing the connections between protected areas and conditions like fishery health and severity of climate change impacts, this group helped support the creation of Corumbau Extractive Reserve in 2000. This reserve is composed of no-take zones and areas that allow fishing. At first, many fishers were unhappy about the creation of areas where no fishing was allowed, seeing it as a threat to their livelihoods. However, it has been found that reserves with no-take zones benefit fishing in the long run. As fish multiply in the no-take zones, they spill over into the regions where fishing is permitted. Since 2000, CI’s monitoring efforts have demonstrated an increase in fish abundance of up to 300 percent for some commercially important species. “Now, 83 percent of fishermen surveyed support the system, as they have seen direct benefits” says the fisherman Neves.
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Wins for People and Species
Through improved marine protection and outreach efforts in the Abrolhos region, CI is helping to expand opportunities for the next generation.
- Employment: A healthy fish population not only sustains the livelihoods of many fishers and their families, but it also paves the way for other economic opportunities. Thanks to the unique biodiversity of Abrolhos, tourism is now the primary source of income in the region.
- Education: CI has designed a program for high school students that gives them school credit for conducting research projects. Many of these students are descended from generations of fishermen, yet they are among the first to see what actually goes on under the water’s surface. By counting seabirds and conducting other research activities, students not only gain a better understanding of the natural world, but they also build valuable skills. Many go on to study biology at university, where their fieldwork experience gives them an advantage over other students.
- Other services: Reserves like Corumbau, Canavieiras and Cassurubá have expanded governmental presence in the region, allowing people access to services they have never had, such as electricity. Thanks to improved access to schools, people like Danieli Nobre, a fisherman’s daughter living in the town of Cumuruxatiba, have been able to get a university-level education. Nobre is now working as an intern in CI’s Abrolhos office.
Securing Future Benefits
Recently, CI and partners from the SOS Abrolhos Coalition leveraged these successes to take on the industrial shrimp farming industry in the region south of the fishing village of Caravelas. Earlier this year, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva personally visited Caravelas to declare the Cassurubá Extractive Reserve – a milestone for local marine conservation, and a proud moment for many locals.
Continuing to expand public knowledge about the benefits of marine conservation will be essential to maintain tradition and livelihoods in Abrolhos. As a new generation of young Brazilians enters the workforce, it will be up to them to protect their waters and conserve their resources for the future.
READ MORE: Connecting the Dots for Fisheries