Sylvia Earle’s voice echoing in Rio, Brazil – Getting on track for marine conservation

Sylvia Earle pointing to a sea urchin in Cagarras Islands Hope Spot – Athila Bertoncini

Dr. Sylvia Earle, the Mission Blue Alliance founder, is a major voice advocating for ocean protection. Her Deepness travels the globe delivering impassioned speeches encouraging people and reaffirming the message that we have both the knowledge and the power to make a positive change in marine conservation.

Sylvia’s unwavering dedication to our planet’s aquatic realms finds a special place in Brazil’s heart. Her first encounter with the country took place during the landmark United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the “Earth Summit” or ECO-92, held in the picturesque city of Rio de Janeiro. Now, three decades later, Dr. Earle returned for her fifth visit, a very singular and profound experience,  her first experience diving into Brazilian waters. During her stay she not only engaged with decision-makers and experts but also embraced the opportunity to connect with the general public leaving an indelible mark on all who had the privilege to speak to her..

Hosted by Ilhas do Rio Project in July 2023, Sylvia accomplished a lot over her short stay. In addition to getting a closer look at the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters Hope Spot, Dr. Earle had the opportunity to witness some of the work done by the project and its partners.

Sugar Loaf view of the Cagarras Islands Hope Spot – Caio Salles

Cagarras Islands Hope Spot – Ciao Salles


As a proud Member of the RISE UP Network, the Ilhas do Rio Project has a decade long commitment to working on ocean conservation. The project’s mission is to provide decision-making agencies with research and long-term monitoring data towards protecting the islands in Rio de Janeiro and raising society’s awareness about the importance of marine conservation and the sustainable use of resources.

Since 2011, the project has been actively engaged in conducting scientific studies on the Cagarras Islands Natural Monument, a designated no-take Marine Protected Area and various other insular ecosystems influenced significantly by the sprawling megalopolis of Rio. Based on the project’s research results, the Mission Blue Alliance recognized the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters as a Hope Spot in 2021. This prestigious designations signifies that the area has been scientifically identified as crucial to the ocean’s health. Thus, through this nomination, the region has become part of a global network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), calling attention to and helping to save and restore the ocean. Hope Spots can include areas in need of protection or existing MPAs requiring further action, such as the Cagarras Islands.

Ilhas do Rio Project is one of the Hope Spot champions. First and foremost, the project works to increase knowledge of the marine area and promote the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters as an example of resistance on the Rio de Janeiro Megalopolis coast. Dr. Earle was a first hand witness to the fact that, although impacted by marine pollution besides other threats, the Cagarras Islands region is a haven for biodiversity.

Moreover, the project’s goal includes strengthening the MPA while reducing the anthropogenic impacts, so the region can be an example of resilience. This mission holds global significance, resonating particularly strongly within the prevailing context of the climate crisis. It is yet more significant in Brazil, where ocean conservancy doesn’t receive as much attention from decision-makers as land-based ecosystems, forests and urban areas do.

By being part of the Mission Blue Hope Spots network, the message of ocean resilience gains amplified reach and impact. It is within this context that, the Ilhas do Rio Project organized a conference in collaboration with the Climate Hub Rio | Columbia Global Centers and Rio’s Environment and Climate Office. The Ocean and Climate Event brought together researchers, policy-makers, and local authorities, among others, to discuss and present the knowledge status and planned and ongoing actions regarding marine conservation in Brazil’s fight against climate change.

The event featured Dr. Ana Paula Prates, director of the Department of Ocean and Coastal Management/ Ministry of Environment and Climate Change – MMA, among other experts. Dr. Prates contextualized the ocean’s relevance and relationship with our global climate and addressed the Federal Government’s priorities for including marine and coastal management in Brazilian climate policy. Dr. Prates emphasized that the Federal Government has recently created the Ocean and Coastal Management Department within the MMA and is focusing mainly on:

    MARINE SPATIAL PLANNING, a step towards putting together environmental conservation, economic development, and national sovereignty;

    INTER-MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE,  a cross-sectoral discussion group for Ocean and Coastal Management, to get at COP 30 with actions related to the oceans, rivers, and mangroves included in the new NDC;

    VULNERABLE ENVIRONMENTS, a national public policy strategy aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of mangroves and coral reefs, considered the most vulnerable environments.

Closing the event, the Key Speaker, Dr. Sylvia Earle, underscored the critical importance of Ocean Literacy being incorporated into early education within our schools. She highlighted the need for a paradigm shift in our perspective towards the ocean. Instead of viewing it has having unrestricted marine resources she urged a transformation rooted in empathy and profound respect, recognizing marine life as living beings. Sylvia left an indelible message; The ocean, often taken for granted, is the cornerstone of our planet’s habitability and it is incumbent upon us to be its stewards. Finally, Dr. Earle positively stressed that we have knowledge in our hands that we never had before. Now is the time to encourage governments to make a positive change to protect and restore the ocean.


About the author

Dr. Aline Aguiar is the Lead Scientist and founder of the Ilhas do Rio Project. She is one of the Champions of the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters Mission Blue Hope Spot and a RISEUP Advisory Board member.

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Date Published: 4th October 2023