Revival in the Mangroves

Women shellfish collectors were ashamed of how they looked after a day in the mud. So Janete and the “Marisqueiras” changed how they saw themselves.

Janete makes her living in the mud. She’s a marisqueira—a female shellfish collector who gleans oysters from the mangrove banks of Maragogipe, Brazil. It’s tough work, and hard on the body: Janete would wade through polluted water with feet wrapped in old jeans,  amassing cuts from shells and garbage. She would wake up sore from crouching in the mangroves, where she sifted for oysters through thick, dark mud and gnarly roots. And at the end of the day, she and her colleagues weren’t earning what they deserved.

“This is what we live off, and this is how we want to continue living. We don’t want to leave our profession. We want to sell this shellfish for  a better price, to provide better living conditions to ourselves and our family.”

The marisqueiras had long collected wild oysters, with many learning the trade by watching their mothers. Though their traditional harvesting methods hadn’t changed, the health and prevalence of Maragogipe’s mangroves were in decline—and with them, the oysters. Development activity and over-extraction of resources were likely to blame.

But their problems didn’t stop there: for years, the women also dealt with grueling working conditions, a lack of pride in their profession, and stifled access to local markets.

Janete and Maragogipe’s 30 marisqueiras knew they had to do something. From 2014-2017, Rare helped the marisqueiras launch and run a Pride campaign to spearhead more sustainable oyster management. They promoted conservation of the mangroves and embraced their occupation. The marisqueiras knocked on doors and attended council meetings; they led monthly meetings and activities with the community; they practiced more sustainable techniques to protect the species’ breeding cycle; they organized field trips to learn more about oyster farming; and they invited researchers to visit the mangroves to see conditions first-hand.

Changing Conditions and Perceptions

Over time, Janete and the marisqueiras rallied their community around more sustainable oyster collection and changed both the conditions and perception of their profession. Today, when the marisqueiras head out to the mangrove banks, they pull on neoprene boots and protective shirts that shield them from UV rays, purchased with funds raised by their campaign. They changed how they sell their oysters, selling them by the dozen instead of individually, and negotiating with end customers instead of solely middlepeople. They created an oyster farm and association to manage it. And they took ownership of their multiple identities as shellfish collectors, women, and quilombolas (descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves).

“They feel more confident and proud of what they do,” says Daniel, Rare’s Pride campaign manager who worked with the marisqueiras. “Many are no longer afraid or ashamed of public speaking or exposing their opinions.” Ultimately, they organized and embraced their profession, emerging as local leaders with newfound pride for their occupation and the drive to balance oyster production with mangrove preservation.

Janete used to be ashamed of her dirt-encrusted finger nails and grimy clothes. Now she wears her profession with pride.

By reimagining what is possible for the quilombolas, the marisqueiras, and women in Brazil’s fishing communities, Janete is igniting change for people and nature—but she can’t do it alone. Will you help ignite change? Give now.

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