Crude oil contaminating the northeastern coast of Brazil has reached the town of Maragogi, one of the region’s main tourist beaches, its mayor said on Thursday.
Images on local television showed dozens of people in Maragogi, known for its natural pools of crystalline water, shoveling and raking the sand in an attempt to remove the sludge from the coast. The region is known as the “Brazilian Caribbean.”
As a truck from the Bralizian environmental agency loaded up with oil-stained sand, some volunteers, apparently without supervision from authorities, joined the work with small shovels.
The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) reported that there were at least 178 locations in nine states that have been affected by the oil.
In terms of expanse, it is Brazil’s largest-ever environmental disaster, said David Zee, an oceanographer at Rio de Janeiro’s state university.
The government’s response has been questioned by ocean experts and environmental non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace. ‘
As in Maragogi, many Brazilians have in recent weeks worked to remove oil from the contaminated beaches without proper equipment or instruction from authorities.
“Just like with the spread of fires in the Amazon, the government again was late to respond,” Greenpeace Brazil coordinator Ricardo Baitelo said.
Brazilian Minister of Environment Ricardo Salles on Wednesday rebuffed the criticism and told local media all necessary means had been adopted for the crude’s identification and collection.
IBAMA did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for information regarding the number of people and equipment working on the operation.
The origin of the oil remains a mystery. Salles said it likely originated in Venezuela — which the Venezuelan government denies — and that the circumstances of the spill were unknown.
Authorities’ primary hypothesis is that the crude spilled into the water from a boat navigating near the Brazilian coast.
Workers from IBAMA, state-run oil company Petrobras and other volunteers have collected hundreds of tonnes of crude, but the mysterious oil slicks could continue to wash ashore.
A month and a half after oil began appearing on the coast, Salles said he did not know how much oil was still at sea and could reach the mainland in coming days.
Zee expressed concern the oil spill could advance toward Bahia State and damage the Abrolhos region that contains one of the nation’s largest coral reefs.
“The contaminated zones will take at least 25 years to recover,” Zee said.
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