27 Mar 2014
The Bay of All Beauties
Written by the Ocean Health Index
It is important to note that the Brazil regional assessment of the Ocean Health Index evaluates the state of Rio de Janeiro. The following article refers to the city of Rio de Janeiro, within the state of the same name. The Ocean Health Index measure for pathogen pollution is based on the percent of the resident population served by adequate sewage treatment facilities; this does not account for seasonal variation in stress on the sewage system due to peak tourism. Furthermore, the Index does not measure trash in the water. Rather, metrics for trash pollution are based on the presence or absence of solid waste management services, including beach clean-ups.
The Clean Water score for the state of Rio de Janeiro in the Brazil regional application of the Ocean Health Index averages scores for 20 municipalities within that state, including the city of Rio de Janeiro. The score for that state (77) masks the very poor water quality of its famous city. The city’s slums and poor neighborhoods have few sanitary facilities and most waste drains directly into the ocean. It is reported that 70% of the city’s sewage is untreated, producing average levels of fecal pollution 78 times higher than Brazil’s "satisfactory" limit and 195 times higher than the level considered safe in the U.S. Elsewhere in the city, waste treatment systems, trash collection and other infrastructure is scaled to the number of permanent residents, so large seasonal influxes of tourists, storms or other factors may overwhelm them adding further to pollution by pathogens and trash.
This article below originally appeared on Sailors for the Sea in March 2014.
Can one hundred years of pollution be cleaned in two?
Talk not of Bahia
de Todos los Santos – the Bay of all Saints; for though that be a glorious
haven, yet Rio is the Bay of all Rivers – the Bay of all Delights – the Bay of
all Beauties. From circumjacent hill-sides, untiring summer hangs perpetually
in terraces of vivid verdure; and embossed with old mosses, convent and castle
nestle in valley and glen.
– Herman Melville, White Jacket (1850)
Last December Alan Norregaard, a Bronze medalist from the 2012 London Olympics, was just barely edging out Nico Delle Karth for first place as he approached the windward mark in the 2nd race of the 2013 Intergalactic Championships in Guanabara Bay, a rather large protected bay outside of Rio de Janeiro.
And then disaster struck when his 49er shuddered to a halt. He and his crew watched helplessly as the entire fleet passed by. Backwinding their mainsail, they peered into the murky water to see what had happened and what they saw was both infuriating and outrageous: their 49er was stopped dead in the water by a large plastic bag wrapped around their centerboard, floating haphazardly in the bay.
“I have sailed around the world for 20 years and this is the most polluted place I’ve ever been,” Norregaard told reporters after the race. He isn’t the only one complaining. This February, the Irish Sailing Team put out a request for funding to bring a doctor with them to Rio de Janeiro to assess “potential health concerns posed by untreated sewage water.” Stories and anecdotes are cropping up of dead horse carcasses and mattresses floating along the racecourse.
“The sewage is visible and we have identified it as a significant health risk to our athletes,” said James O’Callaghan, ISA Performance Director, to the Irish Times this February.
In 2016, sailing teams from all over the world will descend upon Brazil to take part in the Summer Olympics. Individuals and teams from around the world have been training for most of their lives for their chance to earn a medal. The least that can be hoped for is clean waters to compete.
The following is a story about why every regatta organizer should think about sustainability – not as an afterthought – but as a primary pillar of their regatta's legacy.
Human impacts dating
back to the late 1880s were found by a team of researchers when they analyzed
sediment samples from the bottom of Guanabara Bay. But when these researchers
looked closely, they found a significant increase in heavy metals dating back
to the 1950s – approximately when Rio’s population began increasing
exponentially. From 1950 onward, Rio’s population has ballooned more than
The effects of this population growth can be seen. According to the Associated Press, nearly 70% of Rio’s sewage goes untreated. Guanabara Bay is also the center point of a complex river drainage basin. Over 50 rivers flow into the bay bringing the untreated sewage and any disposed waste dumped from the 14,000 industries, 14 oil terminals, 2 commercial ports, 32 dock yards, more than 1,000 oil stations and 2 refineries that surround the bay.
A little more than a third of the 13,000 tons of solid waste produced every day in the Rio de Janeiro area is ejected directly into Guanabara Bay where it’s expected to make its way out with the tide. (Haven’t we learned that the solution to pollution is not dilution?) More often than not however, the trash ends up on Rio’s beaches and enmeshed in the meager mangrove forests that are left along the coast.
On top of that, three major oil spills have left a dirty mark on Guanabara Bay. While entering the Sao Sebastiao terminal in Guanabara Bay in 1975, an oil tanker from Iraq ran aground and spilled 70,000 barrels of oil. At the time it was the worst oil spill to ever occur in Brazil.
Twenty years later the Brazilian refinery operator Petrobras reported that a leaking pipeline had spilled over five times that amount. This put an immense strain on fishermen and their livelihood on the bay. Three years later Petrobras again admitted fault in yet another oil spill, this time because they had failed to install modern sensors on their pipelines.
The result was utter devastation. Brazil experienced an economic downturn as Guanabara Bay’s fisheries collapsed, leaving fishermen to find other sources of income. Environmental groups were furious at the level of incompetency demonstrated by Petrobras as Greenpeace protested by leaving oil-soaked birds and by chaining themselves to the railings outside of Petrobras’s headquarters.
As of today, there are less than two years till the 2016 Olympics. Can Brazil clean up over a century of economic development in the blink of an eye?
The Olympic Games
have long been derided from an environmental standpoint as an unsustainable
event. Think about all the resources that go into making the Games happen.
Stadiums need to be erected, ski slopes must be carved, vast quantities of
bottled water need to be on hand. It’s safe to say that the relationship
between sport and sustainability is not always the most harmonious.
But if Rio is serious about it’s commitment to cleaning up Guanabara Bay, then this commitment has the potential to change the relationship between sport and sailing. For the sailing to happen, change must happen alongside. Only time will tell what kind of legacy Rio 2016 will leave behind.