And the 340,000 people who live in the region are intimately tied to the land and sea as well; about two-thirds of households depend on the archipelago’s diverse fisheries for food and income.

Unfortunately, once plentiful fish stocks in Premeiras e Segundas have declined rapidly in the last decade, largely due to overfishing and poorly managed resources. Coastal communities are now plagued by increasingly unreliable sources of income and chronic food insecurity, putting already strained marine ecosystems under even more pressure.

The no-fishing paradox

The idea of not fishing to catch more fish seems contradictory. But when done right, no-take zones—areas in which people cannot fish—can help recover ocean life. Such sanctuaries protect fragile reefs and prevent fishers from hauling in the wrong species of fish or fish that are too young, giving fisheries the chance to repopulate and grow.

And it works. In Pulizica, the abundance and size of fish in the no-take zone greatly increased, and the diversity of species tripled.

Local fishers support the sanctuaries, too. At least 10 boats sit just outside the zone as we pass by, waiting for the falling tide to bring fish swimming into their nets, which was once an unthinkable occurrence.

We stop to chat with the community monitors who ensure that no one fishes illegally. One says he spotted dolphins in the estuary for the first time in years—a sign that recovering fish stocks are again abundant enough to attract larger predators.

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