A report released by the Brazilian Navy says that over 1,000 tons of oil have already been removed from beaches in the region. Without a coordinated federal response, citizens have had no choice but to take action themselves, putting their own health at risk. Volunteers, some in their bare feet, have been using shovels and their gloved hands to scoop and remove oil deposits. In one striking photograph, a 13-year-old boy, coated in oil and wearing a plastic garbage bag, is seen wading through waist-high waters off the coast of Pernambuco. He said he and his relatives had just wanted to help.
The problem extends far beyond the shore, too. “It is easy to clean up oil from beaches, but not from mangroves and rocky shores,” Zamboni says. “And the longer it remains in these places, the worse the damage it causes. The main problem is that we do not know how much oil is yet to arrive. And it may last a long time.”
This is exactly the type of disaster that Oceana and its allies have worked hard to prevent. Just weeks ago, environmental advocates successfully convinced companies that the risk of drilling for oil off the coast of Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil, was too high. When the government attempted to auction off four oil fields near the Abrolhos Marine National Park, the would-be bidders fell silent. Oil industry analyst Adriano Pires told the Associated Press that companies “didn’t want to get themselves in the middle of an environmental mess.”
Drilling in that area has been averted for now, but the fight continues to stop offshore drilling in Brazil and many other countries where Oceana works. Spills such as the one now coating Brazil’s coast — and approaching the very area just spared from drilling — also prove that other steps must be taken to protect our oceans.
Better transparency at sea, for example, could help identify the individual ships responsible for oil spills. “If vessel tracking — useful for both fishing and oil — were in place all over the world, we could have more clear information,” Zamboni says.
But until that happens, and until the Brazilian government takes decisive action to stem the spill, once-beautiful beaches will continue to turn black.