In Culatra, people live from fishing and not from tourism. “We want a 100% renewable, cleaner and more cared for island”

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Alexandre, 54, is a “fisherman, just a fisherman”, he explains, because he could also be a clam or oyster nurseryman, the two main professions on the island of Culatra, in the Ria Formosa, between Faro and Olhão. He left at 5:30 am and it was not yet 8 am and he was already pulling the stingray out of the tangle of nets and throwing it back into the sea, where the seagulls barely let it touch the water. In between, he still found a few lobsters and a few cuttlefish, an occasional flounder and even a stingray. That’s for him. What he had to sell was immediately unloading at the port of Olhão before returning to Culatra, where he was born and has lived forever. “I don’t like the hustle of cities. I like the calm here. And I have a 22-year-old son who also likes it here. He works with oysters,” he says.

For tourists it’s the ferry, for the culatrenos it’s the career boat. This is how they travel to and from Olhão. But only occasionally, because on the island they have everything they need. Photo José Fernandes

In Culatra it is like this: the men work in sea fishing, the women and the elders in the clam ponds, the young in the oyster ponds, which are located in the Ria. “Oyster is easier than fishing and clams and it makes more money,” says Daniel Santos, 66, a full-time clam nurseryman since retiring from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF). “I have 40 thousand m2, but they are in my son’s name. He didn’t want to go to university, he wanted to go to the nurseries,” he reveals.

“There is a culture here that attracts people,” says Rui Conceição, a 62-year-old fisherman. And it’s not just because of the sea, which provides sustenance. “It has everything to do with these people. Here there is still friendship for those who live here and for those who visit us”, he says. “And solidarity like there is in few places, and all for the benefit of the community”, adds Daniel Santos. Clube União Culatrense, of which Daniel was one of the founders and a player, is an example of this. In addition to sponsorships, it organizes parties every summer Saturday to raise money, and the “population joins and contributes with volunteer work”, says Nélia de Sousa, 42, the club’s vice president. Born on the island, she lives and works in Olhão during the week and in Culatra at the weekend. “But as soon as the kids are grown up, I’m moving here for good. I’m also a nurseryman, and I work here a lot.”

Culatra: social support, now delivered in an electric car. Photo José Fernandes

Be 100% renewable

Culatra is known for two things: for making a living from fishing and shellfish (there are 70 fishing boats and 100 nurseries) and for the strength of its residents. “This has always been a happy neighborhood, but it lacked electricity, running water and sewers. We didn’t even have tours, it was all sand and dirt. And we were the ones who achieved everything that is here now”, with a lot of struggle and persistence, says Rui Conceição. “I remember well when electricity arrived here, in 1991. It was the biggest party ever in Culatra. EDP ​​even offered us 30 barrels of beer to celebrate”, recalls Daniel. In 2010, drinking water and sewers arrived, and in 2018 the houses started to have a property title, which can only be passed on to direct descendants. “That way we avoid real estate speculation and mass tourism. We want to maintain the island’s identity”, says Sílvia Padinha, 56 years old, current president of the Residents’ Association.

Backfire: camaraderie, even when they wait for the grocery store to open to buy bread. Photo José Fernandes

Founded in 1987, among others, by Daniel Santos and Rui Conceição, the Residents’ Association was — and is — the driving force behind the development of Culatra, always with the involvement of the population. For example, it has encouraged young people to invest in oyster ponds, to prevent French companies from monopolizing the business; installed solar panels in the harbor that supply the cold room and a solar boat that began sailing in July of this year; and adhered to fishing without garbage and plastics. In addition, with the Culatra 2030 program, there will be more solar boats, will clean the fishermen’s storage area and still hopes to have an autonomous production of energy that same year. For this, it created a cooperative, which will install solar panels in buildings and which will then sell electricity to the population at lower prices. “We want an island that is 100% renewable, cleaner and more cared for”, concludes Rui Conceição.

Culatra: the quiet. Photo José Fernandes

happier neighborhoods
What can make our neighborhoods better? What new ideas? What projects? What do we need to improve our quality of life? For the second year running, Expresso is associated with the Bairro Feliz project — a challenge launched by Pingo Doce to all neighborhoods, to all neighbors, to discover and bet on new ideas. Follow our journey over the next few months, from the mainland to Madeira and the Azores. Always on the pages of Expresso.
Texts originally published in Expresso of August 26, 2022

  • Text: Expresso, POSTAL’s partner newspaper

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