Things That Matter

MYSTERY: Brazilian Beaches Overwhelmed With 600 Tons of Crude Oil

For nearly two months now, thick black sludge has been washing up on the shores of northern Brazil, and nobody is any closer to determining, and stopping, the leak at its source.  Brazil had deployed 1,500 troops to aid in the cleanup process, but without much effect. The oil is just below the surface, which renders typical tracking and cleanup measures useless. In response, troops and volunteers’ only option is to clean up the oil as it washes ashore. Still, experts predict that 600 tons of crude oil have washed ashore since September, killing wildlife and threatening already precarious coral reef systems.

Vice President Hamilton Mourão announced Monday that an additional 5,000 troops would be deployed to aid in the cleanup process.

Over 200 beaches have been affected, making it the worst oil spill in the country’s history.

Senator Humberto Costa, who represents one of the affected regions, has accused President Jair Bolsonaro of neglect in public statements, tweets, and even memes. In a tweet, he said, “The price of neglect is very high. And the Northeast is paying this bill.” He’s even gone so far as to say, “This government is an enemy of the environment.” 

Many other environmental groups agree that the federal response was irresponsibly slow. The government effectively sent one troop per mile of the affected coastline. Nearly two months later, it has sent an additional 5,000 troops.

Even soccer players are using their field time to demonstrate against slow federal response.

During a soccer match this week, both competing teams altered their uniforms in protest of the oil spills. Bahia opted to wear their typically bright blue and red striped jerseys with black oil spill streaks along the side. Ceara wore black gloves, to represent the black caked gloves thousands of Brazilians have worn in lieu of paid federal employees. Some had even used their bare hands, a major health risk.

Images from the scene are heartwrenching.

Countless numbers of wildlife have perished in the last seven weeks of ongoing oil pollution. Sea turtles are washing ashore with thick black oil coating their bodies. Brazilian volunteers rush to remove the oil from their airways, and under their fins while the turtles helplessly wait for the ordeal to be over. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources reported at least 24 sea turtles having washed up covered in oil. The spill couldn’t come at a worse time for sea turtles. 

Scientists are expecting roughly 800,000 baby turtles to hatch and make their way into the vast ocean. Some have already started hatching, and researchers from Projeto Tamar are trying to catch thousands of baby turtles as we report this. So far, they have released 1,000 olive ridley baby sea turtles 15 miles off the coast into clean ocean water. Scientists don’t know if they’ll be able to return to the beach to lay their eggs without having “imprinted” their walk into the ocean. 

Volunteers have found dead seabirds, fish, turtles and even dolphins … all covered in oil.

Otherwise pristine Brazilian beaches are now scarred with thick black streaks that display their dead. A nearby coral reef, which had just recovered from a near ecosystem-shattering bleaching event, is now covered in black oil. While the efforts to clean up beaches are a band-aid for the root cause, Brazilian officials have no other option. They don’t know where the oil is coming from.

Oil forensics are pointing toward a Venezuelan source.

Regardless of political governmental boundaries, oil comes from the earth, and carry distint chemical fingerprints that allow scientists to determine the geologic origin. That said, the oil washing up on Brazilian shores has already been exposed to water and UV rays, which can alter the chemical makeup, making it more difficult to identify. 

Still, independent labs have corroborated Brazil’s claim that the oil is likely from Venezuela. That, however, doesn’t mean the criminal activity is stemming from Venezuela. “This oil is Venezuelan. Its DNA is Venezuelan. This is certain. It’s a certainty, not speculation,” Ibama President Eduardo Bim announced at a Senate hearing. “Does that mean that Venezuela is responsible? No, that is a separate question.”

In the aftermath of slow response to quell Amazon rainforest fires, many are suspicious of Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro had publicly declared his ambivalence toward protecting the Amazon rainforest for both indigenous people and environmental purposes. Since his presidency, Bolsonaro has rolled back environmental protections in favor of Big Ag development instead. One Twitter user exclaimed, “This is crazy, first the Amazon rainforest burning down to ashes now this … Something is not right here!”

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The Last Wild Macaw In Rio de Janeiro Visits the Zoo Everyday Because She’s Lonely

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The Last Wild Macaw In Rio de Janeiro Visits the Zoo Everyday Because She’s Lonely

via Getty Images

If you’re the type of person who constantly complains about being single, this story will most definitely resonate with you. In Rio de Janeiro, there is a macaw that experts believe is the only free macaw currently living in Rio. To make things more tragic, this Brazilian macaw is so lonely that she makes daily visits to her fellow macaws at Rio de Janeiro’s zoo.

Every morning, a blue-and-yellow macaw (affectionately named Juliet) flies into the enclosure where the zoo’s macaw lives and canoodles with her fellow species.

According to the staff of the Rio de Janeiro Zoo, Juliet has been making daily visits to the enclosure for 20 years. The last time a blue-and-yellow macaw like Juliet was seen in the wild was in 1818. So it’s safe to say she’s fiending for some company. The average lifespan of a macaw is 35-years, which means Juliet has spent the majority of her life as a single lady.

“They’re social birds, and that means they don’t like to live alone, whether in nature or captivity. They need company,” said Neiva Guedes, president of the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, to the Associated Press. “[Juliet] very probably feels lonely, and for that reason goes to the enclosure to communicate and interact.”

Luckily for Juliet, the Rio de Janeiro Zoo is launching a program called Refauna that is aiming to breed and reintroduce blue-and-yellow macaws back into the wild.

The Refauna program plans to breed 20 macaw chicks and give them “training” on “forest food sources, the peril of predators and avoidance of power lines.” Once they’re thoroughly educated, workers will release the birds into the Tijuca Forest National Park to live full, free lives. Some people are hoping that with so many macaws flying free out in the open, Juliet will feel less lonely.

But some animal experts are warning the general public not to feel too bad for Juliet. “We don’t want to project human feelings,” biologist Angelita Capobianco told AP News. I look at the animal, and see an animal at ease.” That’s nice to hear. We love a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man to thrive.

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Brazil Just Passed a Bill That Will Allow Rich Corporations to ‘Skip the Line’ for COVID-19 Vaccines

Things That Matter

Brazil Just Passed a Bill That Will Allow Rich Corporations to ‘Skip the Line’ for COVID-19 Vaccines

Photo via Getty Images

Currently, Brazil is one of the world’s epicenters of the coronavirus. In March 2021, Brazil saw 66,573 COVID-19-related deaths. That means 1 in every 3 COVID-related deaths worldwide are occuring in Brazil.

And it doesn’t appear that the numbers will be slowing down anytime soon. While the United States is making strides in their COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Brazil is lagging far behind. And things are about to get a lot more complicated.

On Tuesday, Brazil passed a bill that would allow corporations to buy up as many vaccines as they can get their hands on, and privately distribute them to their employees first.

Elected officials in Brazil are arguing that the country has become so desperate to vaccinate its citizens, that it doesn’t matter who gets the vaccines first at this point.

The country, once renowned for having one of the most robust and efficient public vaccine-distribution programs in the world, has failed to make strides towards getting their citizens vaccinated.

“We are at war,” said the leader of the chamber, Arthur Lira. “And in war, anything goes to save lives.” We don’t know about you, but usually when it comes to war, we’ve heard that soldiers prioritize the health and safety of young, the weak, and the elderly before their own? We digress…

Brazil’s plan to privatize the vaccine rollout has brought up moral and ethical questions.

From the beginning, the World Health Organization has asked countries to first prioritize essential health workers and then high-risk populations when distributing the vaccine.

Anything other than that would promote a pay-to-play schemes in which the rich could protect their lives before poor people could. And poor people are more likely to die from COVID-19 in the first place.

As Alison Buttenheim, behavioral scientist and expert on the equitable allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine said, vaccine distribution should not “exacerbate disparities and inequities in health care,” but instead address them. Brazil’s vaccine rollout plan would fail to do any of the above.

If countries begin to allow the rich to prioritize their own interests during the vaccine rollout, the consequences could be disastrous.

In a time when the world is stoked by fear and uncertainty, the worst thing that can happen is for rich companies to exacerbate inequalities by effectively choosing who lives or dies.

As the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization said at the beginning of the global vaccine rollout: “any distribution of vaccines should advance human well-being and honor global equity, national equity, reciprocity, and legitimacy.”

Poor Brazilians should not be left to fend for themselves against COVID-19 simply because they are poor.

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