Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Author: José Lamenha
At the end of last August, a huge amount of crude oil appeared in a strip of about 2000
kilometers (1250 miles) in 9 different states of the Brazilian Northeastern region. After studying multiple samples of oil from the coast, Petrobras (the Brazilian federal oil company), environmental organs, and the Brazilian navy have pointed out Venezuela as the origin of the spillages.
Despite being criticized for the lack of appropriate measures when the crisis started, Bolsonaro's administration started to get involved in the situation as the spillages gained more visibility and proportion. Most governmental organs like Petrobras and Ibama (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), and military organizations, such as the navy and army have been of great importance when it comes to investigating the event. However, most of the cleaning work was made by civilians and small NGOs from the affected cities. Thousands of people went to the beaches to help with the cleaning process; many times with few or no protective materials.
Carol Belo, a college student from Recife, Pernambuco, was one of the many Brazilians who
helped to clean out the crude oil from Northeastern beaches. "The first thing you feel once you get to the cleaning sites is the strong smell of oil. You see many desperate people trying to take the oil with their bare hands or scrubbing rocks and reefs with inappropriate mops," she describes. The lack of ideal conditions for the volunteers is worrisome. Despite the high number of IPEs (Individual Protection Equipment) donated, many cases of intoxication by the oil have been reported throughout the 9-state area.
Another point made by the Brazilian student about the individuals involved in the cleaning operation is the collaboration among many different institutions, "Volunteers, fishermen, swamps, navy, army, and Ibama, all working together." Something worthy of a remark is that most movements have no political influence, "You neither can see nor perceive any kind of political activism involved. In fact, the contrary can be said, many politicians that tried to market over the crisis faced hostility from the population". Many state governors have been facing harsh criticism from the population for not acting on the situation as many of them regarded the incident as a “Federal government matter”.
The Northeastern coast is crucial in many ways for the country. The area is crucial for the economy in many aspects, but mainly due to the substantially high tourism in the region, especially from September to February, the summer season in Brazil. Commonly known as the Brazilian Caribbean, the region has great natural importance for the country and the world, possessining 15% of the world’s mangrove biome.
The oil was first detected two months ago and even with great effort by many different groups in the country, it's still out there. Many specialists say that the critical moment has passed. However, it is also known that the consequences are likely to last for a long time. The oceanographer Mariana Thevenin points out that preventing the oil from reaching the sand and the rivers would be the ideal scenario since the region has crucial rivers for the country such as the São Francisco river, lair to a gigantic diversity of fish and aquatic animals.
"These substances contaminate all organisms in the environment, easily spreading into the food chain. A small fish, for example, can eat something that is contaminated. This goes into the chain until it gets to the fish we eat" affirms Thevenin on the Instagram page "Oceano para leigos" (Ocean for the laity), which she owns and runs.