April 16, 2021


RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (April 16, 2021)

Off the coast of Rio de Janeiro lie the Cagarras Islands, a rugged, uninhabited archipelago settled by nestling seabirds and brilliantly colored crustaceans and seahorses under the water. The Cagarras Islands have served as a sparkling example of ecosystem resistance – while located in a heavily populated metropolitan area, these islands remain a beacon of hope for biodiversity, harboring several endemic species and serving as nursery and feeding grounds for many others. The Islands were designated as a Brazil federal natural monument in 2010, and make up the first no-take marine protected area (MPA) in Rio de Janeiro, Cagarras Islands Natural Monument (MONA Cagarras). The MPA no-take zone encompasses 10m around each of the six Cagarras islands and islets. With a municipal Marine Sanctuary Project for the implementation of a new no-take zone within the Praia Vermelha Cove, life within Rio de Janeiro’s waters has a promising future.


Sea turtle (c) Athila Bertoncini


The Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters have been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in support of the Hope Spot Champions’ goals to heighten public awareness of the magnificent marine ecosystem just off Rio de Janeiro’s coast and to build upon marine conservation practices to reduce marine pollution and ensure the integrity of the area’s natural processes and environmental balance.


Aerial shot of the MONA Cagarra marine protected area (c) Projeto Ilhas Do Rio, Athila Bertoncini


Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, says, “I applaud Aline, Caio and their partners for using their knowledge to push for greater protection for the marine life within the Cagarras Islands and surrounding waters. We, as humans, depend on the ocean to stay alive – and the time is now to use our power to protect it.”

Aline Aguiar, Ph.D., Founder of Mar Adentro Institute and Hope Spot Champion adds, “Our ultimate goal is for the Hope Spot to become a successful case in getting people engaged and being on board to protect the ocean. We want to encourage people worldwide to dive in and get to know their city waterfront better. Many treasures can be discovered and protected. By reducing some of the threats, we will give a chance for relevant areas, such as the Cagarras Islands and Praia Vermelha Cove, to recover their pristine characteristics naturally.”


(c) Áthila Bertoncini


“Rio de Janeiro is a political, business, and travel centerpiece in South America. The city brings together policymakers and passionate people who already love the natural wildlife here who can compel the public to make a difference through actions like improved ecotourism and cleanup projects,” explains Dr. Aguiar.

Pieced together within the Hope Spot is a mosaic of municipal protected areas that are enforced with various mismatched regulations that allow fishing and other extractive activities.


Arpoador with a glimpse of the Cagarras Islands (c) F. Moraes


“These types of protected areas are very difficult to enforce and meaningfully protect the marine ecosystems here,” explains Caio Salles, researcher and Coordinator of Verde Mar Project and Hope Spot Champion. Close to the Rio de Janeiro mainland, there is a no-take zone surrounding Cotunduba Island and the mainland’s coastline, outward up to 50 meters. The waters of the Praia Vermelha Cove contain a multi-use protected area that is proposed to become a no-take zone by the Paisagem Carioca Marine Sanctuary creation. 


(c) F. Moraes


According to the Brazilian Constitution, all coastal marine areas are under federal control. Nonetheless, regional governments have the autonomy to legislate protective measures locally. Thus, Caio Salles worked to establish the Paisagem Carioca Marine Sanctuary Project in conjunction with the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Environment Secretary. 

He continues, “The declaration as a Hope Spot will contribute to go forward with the idea for creating the Marine Sanctuary. It will be essential to improve awareness of the general public that frequents one of the most iconic places in Rio de Janeiro, which includes the Sugar Loaf Natural Monument and the Vermelha beach, which is a small jewel in the entrance of the Guanabara Bay.”


(c) Athila Bertoncini


Eduardo Cavaliere, Environment Secretary, says, The recognition of Ilhas Cagarras and its surrounding waters as a Hope Spot revigorates Mayor Paes’ commitment to advance Rio de Janeiro’s conservation policies further. In 2013, in the second Paes administration, the Natural Municipal Park Paisagem Carioca was created only a few kilometers away from Cagarras archipelago, protecting its surroundings.” He continues, “The Hope Spot recognition is an essential representation of how vital local and international actors are for developing a sustainable future for Rio. Ecotourism and science in the Cagarras will benefit from this recognition and inspire hope in Rio and Brazil.”


(c) F. Moraes


Dr. Aguiar is the Head Technician of Ilhas do Rio Project and has worked with the organization since its inception in 2011. Ilhas do Rio Project started its work listing all the fauna and flora, terrestrial and marine, of the MONA Cagarras. Over the last 10 years, the project has grown and has encompassed other insular ecosystems. Ilhas do Rio’s mission is to provide decision-making agencies with research and long-term monitoring data towards protecting the islands in Rio de Janeiro and raise society’s awareness about the importance of environmental conservation and sustainable use of resources, especially MONA Cagarras. To do so, it counts on a highly technical scientific team of experts associated with renowned research-educational institutions with their institutional partners and supporters. It has been ten years of persistent work on the coastal and insular ecosystems of Rio de Janeiro, with significant results on the local biodiversity and people awareness.


Projeto Ilhas Do Rio (c) Athila Bertoncini


MONA Cagarras is home to one of the largest nesting grounds of the South Atlantic for frigatebirds and brown boobies. There are an estimated 5,000 and 2,500 individuals left in the reproductive colony. Six cetaceans species inhabit the islands’ surrounding waters in different periods of the year, including Bryde’s whales, humpback whales, and bottlenose dolphins. Humpback whales also use the area as a corridor when they migrate from Antarctica’s cold waters to Northeast Brazil. The area serves as a feeding ground for green and hawksbill sea turtles. Octopuses and lobsters call the MPA and surrounding waters home as well as French angelfish and butterflyfish.


Frigatebirds (c) F. Moraes


Unfortunately, the Cagarras Islands and surrounding waters continue to face threats from humans. Like in many blue pockets of the planet, plastic pollution washes up on the uninhabited islands’ rocky shores and can even be found left behind by campers and tourists. The Rio de Janeiro waterfront experiences heavy ship traffic and hosts substantial industrial and artisanal fishing grounds that threaten the remaining populations of sensitive marine species – not to mention humans, too. Just 1km away from Palmas Island is the Ipanema Submarine Sewage Outfall which dumps raw sewage right into the water, severely depleting the water quality.

(c) F. Moraes


“The Hope Spot and its treasures are within reach of everyone, not only scientists” explains Dr. Aguiar. “The Cagarras Islands are close to shore, and many people already enjoy snorkeling, SCUBA diving and boat tours to admire the wildlife.” She continues, “We hope that we can inspire more people to work to protect the natural environment and understand the importance of environmental conservation and the sustainable use of resources.”


Projeto Ilhas Do Rio (c) Athila Bertoncini


By reducing some of the threats, the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters Hope Spot has a fighting chance to recover. With the continuous monitoring of these ecosystems with their partners, the Champions hope that the public will grow to understand and appreciate the role that wildlife plays in the health of their communities and become engaged.

The Hope Spot partners include the Cagarras Islands Natural Monument Consultative Council, Morros da Urca and Pão de Açúcar Natural Monument Council, National Museum of Rio de Janeiro Federal University, Associação Brasileira de Combate ao Lixo no Mar, WWF Brasil, Associação IEP, and JPG.


(c) Athila Bertoncini


Tatiana Ribeiro, MONA Cagarras Chief, expresses her support for the Hope Spot. “This designation will heighten public awareness of the MPA, including the current public uses and communication of the forbidden activities. MONA Cagarras and the Hope Spot share mutual conservation goals in furthering sustainable use of the area.”

Thus, the Hope Spot will undoubtedly collaborate with the MONA Cagarras conservation goals.”

Anna Carolina Lobo, Conservation Manager at WWF Brazil and WWF´s Global A Team member for Innovation, says, “Implementing a Mission Blue Hope Spot will reinforce and broaden the promotion and outreach regarding the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters’ beauty and relevance. Furthermore, it will help to protect the coastal and insular habitats of the city of Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, Rio de Janeiro has great opportunities to engage the local population, bringing high visibility for the Hope Spot and practical results for conservation, consequently. WWF-Brasil supports the Cagarras Islands and Surrounding Waters through sponsoring, promoting, and cooperating with the activities of the Ilhas do Rio and Verde Mar projects.”

Caio Salles explains, “We hope that our continued conservation work in the area and promoting the importance of preserving the islands’ precious wildlife can inspire more people around the world, not just in Rio de Janeiro, to love and work to protect their own blue backyards.” 


(c) Liliane Lodi


Dive into the interactive StoryMap, hosted by Esri ArcGIS. 


About Mar Adentro Institute

Mar Adentro Institute is a non-profit organization, founded in 2005. The institutional mission is to promote, participate and stimulate actions to generate and improve knowledge about aquatic ecosystems, aiming to ensure the integrity of natural processes, environmental balance, and benefits for today’s citizens and future generations. Several initiatives have been conducted towards sustainability, including Ilhas do Rio Project since 2011.


About Verde Mar Project

The Verde Mar Project promotes environmental conservation, emphasizing marine and coastal environments, sensitizing people through communication and education, developing scientific research, carrying out events and direct actions. The project literally dives against marine litter and brings to the surface more than only collected debris. It also exposes information that can help to understand the origin of this material. Therefore, Verde Mar collaborates with creating public policies to face the causes of the problem, acting locally to contribute globally.


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