RIO DE JANEIRO – In Rio de Janeiro, one of the most spectacular cities on the planet, the soundtrack has changed. It has gone from samba rhythms to the clash of glass and plastic objects carried by the waves, the result of an alarming level of pollution.
When visiting Guanabara Bay, one hears a melody that recalls the ringing of bells. However, what at first may seem like a pleasant sound becomes hair-raising upon discovering that the music comes from a vast amount of pollution that eventually piles up on the shore.
Soft-drink bottles, plastic bags, lids, handbags, clothing and shoes, and even sofas, bathtubs and detergent cartons are some of the objects that accumulate in the bay, one of Rio’s most highly polluted areas.
Bruna Marques works as administrative assistant in a building facing Guanabara Bay and ordinarily, when taking a break from her job, goes to the shoreline to enjoy what used to be a beautiful sight, but which now is so contaminated.
“I’ve gotten used to seeing this filth. It’s very sad because the landscape is so beautiful, but even at high tide you can still see all the junk that has piled up,” she told EFE.
Marques noted that the color of the water is muddy now and the fish “mostly leap into the air to breathe some oxygen” due to the pollution.
The contamination in Rio de Janeiro is wrecking the city’s image of paradisiacal scenery, and the environmental deterioration has outdated some of the more iconic postcards of the city, which over the past five-year period hosted the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
Mario Moscatelli, a biologist and specialist in restoring degraded areas, blames the situation on two main causes: the trash and the foul waters, since, he said, “of the 54 principal rivers that empty into the bay, 47 are no longer life-supporting due to being drained or filled with sewage.”
What is also key, according to Moscatelli, is the lack of policies and or any action on the part of the government.
“Despite the millions of dollars invested in other projects, the cleaning up of the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro is nothing but a dream up to now,” he told EFE.
And while raising people’s awareness is crucial for stopping environmental deterioration, Moscatelli complained that “when the government doesn’t set an example by fulfilling its obligations, it can’t demand that people act in a civilized way.”
The consequences of this contamination are catastrophic, from the loss of biodiversity to the sabotage of economic activities like fishing.
Another of the ugly sights is seeing how creatures like turtles, which could normally be seen in the bay and which attracted curiosity-seekers who wanted to see them in their natural habitat, now swim surrounded by trash attempting to breathe among the plastic bags floating on the surface.
“Brazilian authorities think as if they were European explorers, as if natural resources are there to be exploited until they’re gone, as in the 18th century,” Moscatelli said.
Only 6.5 percent of Brazil’s rivers are rated as “good” in terms of water quality.
Meanwhile, 1.5 million plastic bags are distributed hourly, and Brazil trails only the United States, China and India as the world’s largest producer of plastic trash.