One Fisher's Defining Moment
We all have defining moments. For Augusto Carlos, a seasoned fisher and lifelong resident of Sal island, that defining moment came – as you might anticipate – after a day of fishing on the sea.
“It happened over 15 years ago. I was with a fellow fisher out on the water, and we captured a turtle and brought it into our boat. I watched the turtle die, and I saw something in its face – from that moment on, I promised myself I would never again capture a turtle.”
Known as "Ti Gust" among his fellow fishers and community, Augusto is one of 11 fishers participating in our Guardians of the Sea programme – a citizen monitoring initiative aimed at engaging fishers in the protection and conservation of critical marine species. Launched at the beginning of this year with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund as well as the Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP), Guardians of the Sea brings fishers from the fishing communities of Santa Maria, Palmeira and Pedra de Lume together to support a common goal – serving as the eyes and ears of marine species protection on the sea.
While the illegal capture of nesting loggerhead females has been tracked in Sal for many years, the in-water capture rate has remained largely unrecorded. One of the primary roles of Guardians of the Sea fishers is to record and report illegal captures of sea turtles, as well as other protected species such as whales and sharks.
Beyond just reporting infractions, Ti Gust also sees himself as a leader in helping to spread awareness and create additional meaningful change by sharing his defining moment with his fellow fishers – and encouraging them to rethink their relationship to the sea.
“Since that day I captured the turtle, I always tell my colleagues and other fishers not to take them – that if they see a turtle captured in a net or anything bad to help free them, and then release it immediately in the sea.”
Illegal fishing methods are also a significant contributor not only to in-water turtle captures but the decline in local fish stock as well. In Cabo Verde, coastal fisheries play an essential role in supporting the nutritional health and livelihoods of many communities – especially to those living in remote areas without access to other sources of food or income. The fisheries sector also contributes to 2-3% of the country’s GDP (2014 data) and provides over 10,200 direct jobs across the archipelago.  But illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices have left many fishers with increasingly empty nets.
The Guardians of the Sea also monitor and report illegal fishing infractions that contribute to this issue. With better knowledge of the scope of the problem, Project Biodiversity hopes to contribute essential data that can aid in informing better fisheries policy on both a local and national level.
In return for being part of the programme, participating fishers receive essential material, safety equipment for the boat, and ongoing training in areas like first aid, species identification and general marine biology to help support their work and livelihoods.
For Augusto, it’s clear that his participation is both a point of responsibility and one of great pride,
In the coming months, the Guardians of the Sea programme will be adding new fishers to the programme, with a target total of 25 participating boats. The newer Guardians will receive training in maritime security and first aid. The team also hopes to implement new training on maritime law and protected areas for all participants of the programme.