Interview with Fábio Motta, visiting researcher at EqualSea Lab

In the week of June 20th to 25th, EqualSea Lab received Professor Fábio dos Santos Motta, from the Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Unifesp), in Brazil. During his visit, Fábio shared with the EqualSea Lab team their work on the study on the ecological and social dimension of the conservation and management of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the state of São Paulo. He also had the opportunity to attend a workshop with artisanal fishers in Lira, one of the places where EqualSea Lab develops a case study for its research projects. Professor Motta’s visit was made possible by the support of Fapesp (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo).


Fábio Motta is an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Marine Sciences at Unifesp, where he coordinates the Laboratory of Marine Ecology and Conservation (LABECMar). He is also part of the permanent faculty of the Graduate Program in Biodiversity and Marine and Coastal Ecology (PPGBEMC). His research focuses on science for the management of marine protected areas, biology of sharks and rays, ichthyology and marine conservation. He holds a degree in Biological Sciences (1997) from the Universidade Católica de Santos, and Master (2001) and PhD (2006) in Zoology from the Institute of Biosciences of the Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP-Rio Claro).

During his career, Fábio has also worked on several research projects in marine conservation and fisheries management, including community outreach and third sector (NGO) initiatives, for nearly a decade, coordinating marine conservation projects. Today, he continues to collaborate with several Brazilian organizations.

Welcome, Fábio! Tell us more about the work you do in Brazil.

– I am focused on research applied to the management of marine protected areas. Our laboratory LABECMar studies the network of MPAs in the State of São Paulo, the most industrialized state on the Brazilian coast. It is affected by multiple cumulative impacts. This is a great challenge to understand what are the deliveries that marine protected areas make from the point of view of biodiversity, socioeconomic, equity, etc. And we are very interested in understanding the role of these MPAs.

Our team carried out several studies on biodiversity monitoring and on the socio-economic indicators associated with the visitor experience in MPAs. And we also advanced in some research for opportunities that arise from our constant presence in the field and dialogue with managers: in 2019 we discovered the southernmost coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean. After that we decided to develop a series of research in this area. For example, how old was this reef, its accretion and erosion dynamics, mapping of uses that occur in this area, etc.

I also have experience in working with the biology of sharks and rays through collaborative monitoring with artisanal fishermen, and for more than a decade I followed fishing landings.

How is the situation of MPAs in the state of São Paulo?

– It is a network formed by three large areas of multiple uses – which in Brazil are called areas of sustainable use and others of integral protection (no-take MPAs). They have all their management tools, such as a management plan, a council of management composed of stakeholders, and public use management to regulate visitation. There is a lot of need to implement actions and fill knowledge gaps to improve management.

We are in a very industrialised state in the context of Brazil, but we have made many discoveries, such as the coral reef. And we recently described the first spawning aggregation of Lutjanus cyanopterus in these areas. Fishers knew about this aggregation, but there were no scientific records.

In general, these MPAs have their management instruments, planned actions for implementation, but it is still necessary to go one step further.

Are there many impacts on these areas?

– There are many impacts. We have the largest port in Latin America, Santos. It is an important area for fisheries: gillnets, shrimp trawls… Fisheries that are not only artisanal but also industrial. We have records of invasive species, and the chemical pollution is also present.

The MPAs are very important for the management of marine natural resources and biodiversity. But they are not a panacea, they have limits to how far they can protect this biodiversity.

How did your collaboration with Equal Sea Lab and Professor Sebastián Villasante start?

– I already knew the work of prof. Sebastián Villasante for the vast scientific literature produced by him. I had been following his work, that of his students and direct collaborators. I found the idea of ​​relating the more human dimension of the context of marine resource management to ecosystem and cultural services to be very interesting. It is a subject that caught my eye. I have a background in natural areas, but I challenge myself to navigate new seas, to work at the interface with the social sciences. I see in this interaction with EqualSea Lab a way to improve our studies in Brazil.

And this collaboration was driven by the coordination of a master’s student from the biodiversity program, to assess the socioeconomic impact of the diving activity in three MPAs in the state of São Paulo. Prof. Sebastián Villasante will help us with all his background in sciences to make these estimates.

In this dialogue, other opportunities could arise. We recently received support from FAPESP to study the human dimension of recreational diving in these MPAs, including the study of the deep reefs. This support made it possible for me to come to Galicia to see the work of Sebastián and his team and plan new partnerships.

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