[MARMAM] Dolphins and port activity – what can be done?

Laura Aichinger Dias lauretadias at yahoo.com.br
Fri Jun 27 10:05:29 PDT 2008

Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro city, Brazil is considered the most degraded area of occurrence of guiana dolphins (Sotalia guianensis), with a population estimated to be around 50 animals. This bay is heavily polluted by sewage, garbage and oil spills; the Rio de Janeiro Port and 2 airports are located on its shore; and its mangrove forest is already practically inexistent. In contrast Sepetiba Bay at approximately 70 km from Rio de Janeiro city, still presents a fairly well preserved environment where lavish rainforest from the cliffs meets the mangroves down the shore. The guiana dolphin population in this area is estimated to be around 1200 individuals, normally living in groups of up to 20 animals. However, aggregations of 100, 200 up to 450 dolphins are also a recurrent phenomenon in the region. 
The geographic proximity of Sepetiba Bay to the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region has favored the development of the area and still impulses new projects. Once tourism and fishing were the major activities, and today in addition to them, the bay houses 2 important ports and several metallurgic industries on its surroundings. New projects for the current port expansion and the construction of additional ports have been already proposed and approved by the Brazilian Environmental Regulatory Body (FEEMA). The Sepetiba Port in operation since 1982 received US$120 million dollars in investments to increase its operational capacity from 20 million tons/year to 70 million tons/year of iron ore only (the port also operates 7 million tons/year of coal, 1 million tons/year of aluminum, among other products). Additional dredging of the access canals from 18.7 meters to 20 meters will allow super cargo ships with 230.000 DWT (Deadweight tonnage) to dock and also
 transport grains. 
The Canadian Adriana Resources Inc. has recently purchased nearly 900,000 square meters of land in the coast of Sepetiba Bay for the development of a new iron ore port facility initially capable of handling 5 million tons/year of iron ore, reaching up to 50 million tons/year by year five. The big mining organizations MMX and BHP Billiton are also envisioning additional investments in Sepetiba Port operations. 
All port facilities are programmed to be instaled over mangrove areas and estuarine ecosystems. The guiana dolphins are extremelly dependent on the productivity derived from the those ecosystems on the coast of Sepetiba Bay and needless to say ports introduce threats such as habitat destruction, noise pollution, contaminats and boat/ship disturbance. 
Amongst this wave of investments and development lays the largest population of guiana dolphins estimated for the coast of Brazil. The “Projeto Boto Cinza” has been studying this population since 2001 and has made remarckable research about this population abundance, behavior and succesbility to human impacts. Besides estimating a large population number, the project documented aggregations of up to 450 animals observed only at Sepetiba and at the nearby Ilha Grande and Paraty Bays. The project has also noticed a reduction of dolphin sightings in areas where ships wait to dock on Sepetiba Port. The “Projeto Boto Cinza” has been intensively trying to implement protection areas within the bay in order to avoid further impact on this population and maintain the animals and its culture in the area with a preserved habitat. 
The conservation of the environment in Sepetiba Bay has been obscured by the vast amount of money and interest involved in such large investments from private companies and by the Brazilian government’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC). We feel frustrated and incapable of fighting against such strong interest and we urge to find a mid-point solution where the development of human activity causes the least disturbance possible on those animals and their habitat. 
The reason we are writing is to ask for advice of people who experienced similar situation or might have ideas and experience to overcome a worse case scenario. We need to know what can be done in order to prevent Sepetiba Bay to become, in a near future, Guanabara Bay. 
Thank you,
Leonardo Flach and Laura Aichinger Dias
Projeto Boto Cinza

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