The new right-wing government led by Jair Bolsonaro is further tainted by a second massive environmental tragedy in Brazil in just 10 months of government. In both cases, government inertia has allowed damage and destruction to reach much larger proportions than they would have had the authorities acted more swiftly.
After the fires in the Amazon, which have killed millions of animals, including 500 jaguars, now sea animals on the northeastern coast of Brazil are suffocating in crude oil in the ocean. Reports about the spillage started to appear a month ago, but, as it seems to be typical of the new government, officials sat on their hands and pretended that it was not their problem.
Now, it seems to be a bit too late to mitigate the impact of the spill on wildlife, the landscape, and the economy of the region, which relies heavily on tourism. So far, the oil spill has affected 62 municipalities across nine states. Reports in the national media estimate that the region may take decades to recover. For the animals caught in the tarry material, there is no time to wait. Some of them are found dead, while others are found agonizing, covered in the black, sticky material that is very difficult to remove.
Besides the beauty of the coastline in the northeast of Brazil, the region is home to a massive biodiversity, including the second largest coral reef barrier in the world, several species of sea turtles and birds.
“We know of five species of turtles living in Brazil as well as birds, including a great amount of migratory birds who reach the region every year. Not to mention the huge amount of fish. We have a rich biodiversity that is threatened by this serious incident,” Flávio Lima, a researcher with the state university of Rio Grande do Norte state, told UOL.
One of the main risks linked to the spill is the contamination of feeding areas. “The animals often live on food that is formed on algae banks and other organisms. Depending on the movement of the tide, they provide food for manatees and turtles,” added Lima. “This can impact the anthropic chain, reaching molluscs and crustaceans, as well as other organisms such as fish and bigger animals.”
The 130 km-long coral reef barrier between Alagoas and Pernambuco states is another major concern. The area is home to several species currently threatened with extinction. Lima says the corals already suffer with tourism, water pollution and global warming and could be affected by the arrival of the oil.
According to the Brazilian environmental protection agency, 11 turtles covered in crude oil have been rescued but only four of them have survived so far. A bird was also found dead. It says it is very difficult to establish the exact number of affected animals since sea currents do always bring the wounded birds to the shore. Ibama is urging the public to contact its staff when they find an animal that needs cleaning and treatment.
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