Abrolhos Seascape MPA Expansion

CI_Abrolhos Coast

Conservation International expedition to Abrolhos region, Bahia, Brazil

Grant Recipient:  Conservation International
Project Support:  
The Abrolhos Seascape – Expansion and Creation of New MPAs, including the largest no-take MPA in the Southern Atlantic Ocean
Term:  2009 – 2012

The Abrolhos Region is a coral reef hotspot located in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Bahia and Espírito Santo states in Brazil. The area comprises a mosaic of marine and coastal ecosystems and encompasses the largest reef area and the highest marine biodiversity in the Southern Atlantic, harboring a multitude of unique and threatened species. The central threats to the Abrolhos region are overfishing, illegal fishing, shrimp farming, oil and gas exploitation, climate change, and sedimentation from river runoff, which combine to imperil the very survival of this unique ecosystem. Working closely with local communities, Conservation International has played a leading role in protecting and expanding the MPA network.

Conservation Planning

CI_Abrolhos Masked Booby

Masked Booby: The Abrolhos archipelago is an important nesting ground for a number of seabirds.

Conservation International (CI) has been working closely with NGOs, communities, and the Brazilian government to understand and protect this important ecosystem and to establish an Abrolhos Seascape. The work is focused on developing a systematic conservation planning process and analyzing physical, biological, and socioeconomic data, as well as conducting a cost-benefit analysis of different conservation scenarios. Building on this work, CI proposes to create 2 new, large MPAs–a multiple-use MPA covering the entire region to provide large-scale governance and a Wildlife Refuge to protect the breeding site for humpback whales–and to expand the Abrolhos National Park to include newly discovered reefs, algae banks, and geologic formations as no-take zones. This project aims to expand the boundaries of the Abrolhos National Park by more than 10 times, which would make it the largest no-take MPA in the Southern Atlantic

In 2010, Brazil signed a commitment to protect at least 10 percent of its EEZ, or the area of the ocean under Brazil’s jurisdiction extending 200 nautical miles from its coastline, by 2020. There is an expectation that the Brazilian government will have made significant progress toward this goal by the June 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. CI aims to take advantage of this unrivaled, imminent opportunity to build upon ongoing work and processes to significantly increase the amount of marine area under protection.

Marine Conservation Model & Community Impact

The biodiversity of Abrolhos is threatened by overfishing, the negative effects of climate change, shrimp farming, and oil and gas exploitation – CI will focus on these threats. A fully functioning MPA network, integrated into a comprehensive management regime, is a strong tool for addressing these threats. Existing extractive reserves, co-managed by communities and government agencies, have produced impressive results: within multiple-use protected areas, fish abundance has increased, and a spill-over effect from no-take reserves has led to increased fish abundance in other areas; reef systems and mangroves are protected from large development projects (shrimp farming and oil and ci_abrolhos-map-2.jpggas drilling); and social engagement has improved. The Cassurubá community asked CI to help them establish a marine extractive reserve based on the outcomes from other protected areas. CI’s continuous monitoring of marine resources and resource users, in partnership with Brazilian universities, has been a key component in measuring conservation impacts and evaluating management needs.

CI’s goal for the region is to strengthen and expand the Abrolhos MPA network into a resilient system that will be adaptively co-managed by government authorities, NGOs, and local communities to conserve biodiversity and fisheries over the long term. Through this project, CI will generate new data and from this, will re-frame the overall picture of biodiversity, marine communities, and fisheries on the Abrolhos Shelf to inform the design of the proposed expansion of the Abrolhos National Park. The synthesis will provide knowledge about key features and ecological processes that managers can use to improve park protection and enhance the sustainability of resources drawn from the Shelf ecosystem as a whole. It will also support a resilience analysis for developing a strategy of climate change adaptation in the region, where the new MPAs will be designed considering future scenarios. 

The outcome of this project will have a direct impact on 3,000 traditional fishing families in addition to 17,000 other families, who depend on the environmental services provided by the Abrolhos MPA network (fisheries, natural attraction for tourism, carbon sequestration, etc.) and indirectly derive benefits from healthy ecosystems. Accomplishing this goal for Abrolhos will also foster the development of national guidelines and provide successful case studies for promoting marine conservation in other regions along the country’s more than 8,000 km of coastline.


Underwater Wonders: Abrolhos is home to some of the world's most unique and threatened corals. Since the species have long since vanished from other parts of the region, these corals are on the front line of extinction.

Staff Expertise

Guilherme F. Dutra, M.Sc., Director of CI-Brazil’s Marine Program, leads the project. He is a biologist who has led marine conservation efforts in Abrolhos for 15 years and played a key role in creating the three marine extractive reserves in Abrolhos, strongly involving local communities in these conservation decisions. Throughout his decade and a half of work in the region, Mr. Dutra has led the implementation of 35 projects and has accumulated significant technical and management experience. He is a Pew Fellow for Marine Conservation candidate for 2012; if selected, his main goals will be to expand the Abrolhos MPA Network and to replicate its impact on a national scale.

Les Kaufman, Ph.D., CI Senior Marine Scientist and Professor in the Boston University Marine Program, will be the project’s Principal Investigator. He is an evolutionary ecologist studying basic processes that drive the creation, collapse, and conservation of aquatic species diversity on coral reefs and tropical great lakes. He is currently leading a research team that develops models of ecosystem services delivery and trade-offs in heavily populated coastal ecosystems. The models are practical tools for ecosystem-based management and marine spatial planning. Kaufman is also a Research Scholar with The New England Aquarium and Associate in Ichthyology, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, serves on the Science and Statistics Committee for the New England Fishery Management Council, and is working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) colleagues to modernize federal ocean science. Kaufman also writes popular books, magazine articles, and television content, including multiple stints as either author or subject with NOVA and National Geographic. He was awarded the first marine Pew Fellowship in 1990 and was selected to receive the Parker-Gentry Award in Conservation Biology for 2011 from the Chicago Field Museum.

Eduardo Camargo, M.Sc., Manager of CI-Brazil’s Marine Program, will oversee project implementation. Eduardo has been in the region for nine years, previously serving as coordinator of the Humpback Whale Institute before joining CI in May 2011. He will help organize logistics and formal procedures for the field work, as well as participate in the technical planning for the marine surveys.

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About Conservation International

Conservation International (CI) builds upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration to empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature and the well-being of humanity. Founded in 1987, CI works at every level—from remote villages to the offices of presidents and premiers—to help move whole societies toward a smarter development path. Through science, policy and field work, they assist communities, countries and societies to protect tropical forests, lush grasslands, rivers, wetlands, abundant lakes and the sea.


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Conservation International – Global Marine
Abrolhos MPA Network in Brazil

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