In past months, an oil spill has touched nearly 300 beaches across Brazil’s northeastern coast, covering more than 2,300 kilometers of sand, including the world’s second-largest barrier reef in Alagoas. More than two months have passed since the start of the spill, and only recently has an investigation started to reveal answers to its source.
Investigations of this kind don’t usually take so long. Satellites allow us to identify the real-time positions and routes of ships, as well as map their traffic history. This delay in the investigation and the relationship between the U.S. embargo on Venezuela and an alleged increase in the fleet of clandestine vessels (dark ships) led to the suspicion of irregular disposal, or ship-to-ship cargo transfer operations. The possibility that the oil came from an illegal laundering of tankers has been ruled out, though.
The investigation of the origin of the oil has been conducted by the Navy, with a criminal investigation targeted by the Federal Police with the cooperation of Interpol. The material analysis was made by the oil company Petrobrás, who told the press that the chemical profiles of the samples collected are compatible with the characteristics of petroleum produced in Venezuela. On November 1, the federal police revealed that the Greek-flagged merchant ship Bouboulina was their suspected source of the 2,000-ton spill, according to the Associated Press.
“There is strong evidence that the company, the captain and the vessel’s crew failed to communicate to authorities about the oil spill/release of the crude oil in the Atlantic Ocean,” Brazilian prosecutors said in a statement obtained by Reuters.
Of course, having knowledge of what really happened and punishing those responsible is extremely important, but there are other priorities at the moment, such as supporting those impacted by the spill, removing waste that continues to come ashore, and trying to avoid contamination of new places. On November, 2, oil showed at Abrolhos Marine National Park, one of the most important marine biodiversity areas of the South Atlantic, reminding us that finding the source is still far from solving the problem we are faced with.
The severity of the situation demands a quick, coordinated and efficient response, but according to reports of those who are there, this’s not exactly what is happening. Government aid has not provided enough relief and desperate locals, including many children, are trying to clear the toxic sludge by any means necessary themselves. As shocking as the images of oil-covered animals may be, every environmental catastrophe on this scale is accompanied by massive social drama and hardship. Along the Pernambuco coast, “Salve Maracaípe,” and in Bahia, a group of surfers created the movement “Guardiões do Litoral” as new volunteer organizations.
Of course, this disaster will have a far-reaching impact on everything from tourism and the local economy, to food sources. However, the secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries has said that fishing is somehow safe in the affected areas. Would you believe that? This being a public health issue, it would be much more prudent to do deep studies before authorizing the consumption of food that comes from contaminated waters. The IBAMA (environmental agency) superintendent in Bahia posted pictures with the caption “clean, clean, clean,” however, according to oceanographer Hugo Lamas who lives north of Salvador and saw tons of crude removed from your beach, “It will take 10 to 20 years to be metabolized by coastal ecosystems. That’s the biggest danger you can’t see.”
All this shows once again that we are unprepared to deal with such a crisis. Sometimes there is no way to prepare people for such a disaster, and our only option is to mitigate its consequences and observe the destruction. But of course, we all do have the blood (and oil) on our hands, having contributed to the problem when we consume hydrocarbons. But this doesn’t have to keep us from leading a gradual paradigm shift. In any long walk, a first step has to be taken. Surfers are natural environmentalists but have also always been confronted with the contradiction that our sport is dependent on both nature and equipment that is harmful to it. Everything that we consume was created with environmentally-friendly practices or it wasn’t, and we all have the power to choose which side of the coin our daily devices, our surf equipment, our food, and our clothes come from.
We will not save the planet, but we definitely need to expand our consciousness in how we treat it.
Editor’s Note: Gustavo Lermen Silva divides his time between market research, writing and working as a surf instructor in Azenhas do Mar, Portugal. To learn more about contributing to relief efforts in Brazil, you can visit a current crowdfunding campaign here.