In DepthEnvironment

Mystery oil spill threatens marine sanctuary in Brazil

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Science  08 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6466, pp. 672
DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6466.672

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  • RE: Oil spill disaster in Brazil: impact assessment neglecting unique coral reefs
    • Ricardo J Miranda, Ecologist, Federal University of Alagoas
    • Other Contributors:
      • Elcia C G Almeida, Biologist, State University of Santa Cruz
      • Taciana K Pinto, Fishing Engineer, Federal University of Alagoas
      • Cláudio L S Sampaio, Biologist, Federal University of Alagoas
      • Pedro H C Pereira, Biologist, Reef Conservation Project
      • José A C C Nunes, Ecologist, Reef Ecology Group
      • Richard J Ladle, Ecologist, Federal University of Alagoas

    The mysterious oil spill that occurred off the northeast coast of Brazil in August 2019 could have profound environmental implications, as recently discussed in Science (1). Following this initial report, scientists have used Science to highlight the consequences of government inaction (2, 3, 4), and the potential ecological impacts on rhodolith beds (5) and sandy beaches (6). Spurred on by global media attention, Brazilian federal environment agencies quickly mobilized and have recently released the results of studies demonstrating intermediate levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons of oil contamination in a variety of fishes, molluscs and crustaceans (7,8).
    To date, however, there has been little discussion of the potential impacts of the oil on hermatypic corals, one of the main reef building species and a keystone species on these unique South Atlantic coral reefs (9). Oil toxicity impedes coral reproduction, growth, behaviour, and development, reducing population survival and directly contributing to the global coral reef crisis (10,11). Coral reefs in northeast Brazil have high levels of diversity and endemism, and contain vulnerable coral species in the South Atlantic Ocean (9). Moreover, reef-building corals play a major role in ecosystem dynamics, creating complex physical structures that support high levels of biodiversity that are essential for human food provision. Thus, we strongly advocate for immediate measures to assess the impact of Brazil`s larg...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Mystery oil spill also threatens primary resources users' (way of) life
    • Antoine O.H.C. Leduc, Biologist, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte
    • Other Contributors:
      • Cláudio L.S. Sampaio, Ecologist, Federal Univesity of Alagoas
      • José A.C.C. Nunes, Ecologist, Reef Ecology Group

    The most severe environmental disaster to impact a coastal region of the tropics, the mysterious Brazilian oil spill is still ongoing, although at a much reduced scale. Despite its original magnitude required assertive actions (1), the federal Brazilian government remained in a state of inertia, triggering outrage (2) and concerns of economic interests to industry (3). However, to date, a grossly overlooked matter involves the contamination of seafood that provides sustenance and livelihood for over 300K people.

    In the heart of the spill, many fishing communities became unable to market their products, a situation particularly acute for fisherwomen whose shellfish catch are well-known to accumulate toxins. Unsurprisingly, many financially-tied households increasingly relied on their harvest for food (4), exposing themselves to extremely harmful substances, a matter that the federal government most entirely ignored. In fact, pressures from the fishery sector and non-governmental organizations prompted the federal government into actions; even though federal authorities finally provided minimal financial compensation to fishers, only 68 seafood samples (fish, lobsters and shrimps) were tested for contamination, but potential contamination of fishers was overlooked. Noteworthy, of the 13 fish species tested, at least two presented concentrations of toxins well above the reference value set by National Health Surveillance Agency (5).

    Contamination analyses led by...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Every environmental disaster sounds new: The recurrent drama of Brazil
    • Aline Sbizera Martinez, Oceanographer, Instituto do Mar, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil
    • Other Contributors:
      • Ronaldo Adriano Christofoletti, Professor, Instituto do Mar, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil
      • Paula Kasten, Biologist, Instituto do Mar, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil
      • Paulo da Cunha Lana, Professor, Centro de Estudos do Mar, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil

    Environmental disasters are complex and so is their management. Every catastrophe in Brazil seems somehow novelty, always requiring new institutional articulations to be dealt with. There is a delay for action, waste of money and resources, and human tragedies are repeated. The 2019 oil spill was no exception. It triggered again a discussion around the impacts on costal ecosystems and human populations (1, 2), the repeated delay in governmental actions (3) and the acute lack of strategies to minimize oil exploration impacts (4).
    Impact assessments and monitoring programs are essential but require previous defined protocols of quick implementation and clear objectives (5, 6). There is enough accumulated knowledge to plan ahead long-term actions instead of only dispending great energy and resources on weak emergency plans. Applying long-term actions will improve coastal ecosystems’ health and therefore maintain ecosystem services that sustain millions of Brazilians.
    Worldwide ecosystems are subjected to multiple stressors that act simultaneously at different scales, intensities, frequencies and durations (7, 8). Ecosystem shifts have proven hard to switch back through remediation actions (9). Reducing local chronic stressors is thereby a solution to enhance ecosystem resilience to cope with global and eventual acute disturbances, such as oil spills (10). For instance, managing contamination from sewage and inland base-activities may aid the recovery of Brazilian...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • An oil spill is threatening Brazilian sandy beaches
    • Carlos Alberto de Moura Barboza, Professor of Marine Ecology, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto de Biodiversidade e Sustentabilidade NUPEM, Brazil
    • Other Contributors:
      • Maikon Di Domenico, Professor, Marine Ecology, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Centro de Estudos do Mar, Brazil
      • Gustavo Mattos, Biologist, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Departamento de Zoologia, Brazil
      • Omar Defeo, Professor, Marine Ecology, Universidad de la República, Uruguay,

    More than two months after an oil spill impacted almost 2,500 km of coastline in Northeastern Brazil, hundreds of beaches, estuaries, reefs, and mangroves are still being threatened. Efforts coordinated by the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA), in collaboration with the Brazilian Navy and multiple environmental agencies and NGOs, have been trying to mitigate impacts and detect the origin of the oil leak. Special attention was focused on preventing oil from reaching coral reefs like the Abrolhos Bank, a 9,000 m2 coral reef system in the South Atlantic (1). Hundreds of volunteers also helped cleaning more than 800 sandy beaches, the most affected ecosystem (2). Beaches are the most common coastal environment in Brazil and economies of many cities are dependent on this beach recreation-tourism link (3), with no other ecosystem carrying the same level of recreational use. More than 1,300,000 international tourists arrive annually to the Northeast Coast, attracted by unique sandy beaches that support more than 50,000 formal jobs and provide more than USD 140 million in taxes annually (4). More than 18 million people live at the 128 cities affected by the oil spill. A total of 89 of these cities have less than 1 million inhabitants, and their economies potentially revolve around coastal activities. Hundreds of sandy shores are still uncleaned (2) and consequences are very likely to go far beyond the direct losses mentioned on actual...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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