New Brazilian Conservation Area Will Protect Mangroves, Corals, Fisheries

New Brazilian Conservation Area Will Protect Mangroves, Corals, Fisheries

The Brazilian government on June 9 officially declared a new conservation area that will help protect one of the world’s most important coral reefs, and benefit thousands of people who depend on the nearby fisheries to make a living.

The Cassuruba Marine Extractive Reserve – which partners from the SOS Abrolhos Coalition (of which MAP is a member) played a key role in creating – is located in Abrolhos Bank, the Southern Atlantic Ocean’s largest and richest reef system, off the southern coast of Brazil’s Bahia state.

Marine extractivist reserves, a form of marine protected area with defined user rights, are contracted out to the communities that live in the surrounding area. They are an adaptation of the “Reservas Extrativistas” or RESEX, a novel and unique partnership in natural resource extraction and conservation that Brazil has been experimenting with since 1989. RESEX allow the sustainable use of natural renewable resources, and the participation of traditional communities in the management process, combining human well-being and biodiversity conservation.

Community Demand
The idea of the Cassaruba Marine RESEX arose from requests by shellfish collectors, extractivists, and fishers worried about crab collectors coming from other regions, real estate speculation, and other threats to the ecosystems which guarantee the sustenance of local families. One of the main challenges for the community was the fight against the implementation of the largest shrimp farming project in the country, Coopex, a business considered incompatible with the conservation of the area and which generated many conflicts in the region.

According to Seu José (Zequinha) Ferreira, member of the fisherfolk movement in Caravelas, the creation of the RESEX “will establish order in our fishing area, as there are few fish with so many people coming from other areas to place their fishing nets. The RESEX will guarantee our tradition, access to our way of earning a living, and consider the future of our children.”

Ecological and Social Benefits
The new protected area stretches over 100,687 hectares (245,663 acres) of mangroves, estuaries and coastal habitats that are home to a vast number of crabs, sea turtles, shrimp, fish and shellfish. Cassuruba is home to 95% of the Abrolhos Bank’s mangroves, which makes it a key nursery site for many fish species of ecological and economic importance in the region.

The creation of the Cassuruba Marine RESEX also means that around 20,000 fishermen who depend on these marine species will benefit from the environmental services offered by the new reserve.

Exractivist Reserves (RESEX)
Extractivist reserves are created on the demands of traditional and indigenous communities with the objective of using public land to extract natural resources in a sustainable way, thereby preserving both the natural environment and the local culture and traditions. The State concedes user rights on these lands for 30 years, with the option to extend the concession permanently after that. The federal government, through the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity (ICMBio), assists the community in the task of developing a sustainable management plan. Thus it is the community that determines the way it will explore and use the resource potentials, with financial support and government assistance to enforce the local laws. Besides nature conservation, the objectives are to guarantee human rights and to improve the population’s quality of life.

The formal creation of the RESEX is only the first step towards reaching community objectives. “The necessity of community organization now is amplified, as the traditional population must actively participate in the management of the area. Only working together and putting pressure on the Brazilian State will rights guaranteeing socio-environmental sustainability of the region be achieved,” according to Ronaldo Oliveira, an environmental analyst for ICMBio, the Brazilian protected areas agency.

Economic and social interest
Marine reserves in Brazil are important instruments for fisheries management, certification of origin and fair trade and responsible tourism development, and play an important role in integrated coastal management.

“Abrolhos is the most important fisheries region in Bahia state, and the Cassaruba estuary is a key nursery site for these species” said Guilherme Dutra, biologist and director of the Marine Program at Conservation International (CI-Brasil). “The creation of this reserve will help maintain marine ecosystems, local fisheries, and traditional cultures.”

On World Environment Day President Lula also signed decrees to create the Marine RESEX of Prainha do Campo Verde in the State of Ceara and two land-based protected areas. He also presented legislation that will introduce the payment for environmental services performed by organized communities.

Compiled from reports by Conservation International, Instituto Terramar, and Coalizão SOS Abrolhos