How a farming project in Brazil turned into a social and ecological tragedy

Victoria Jaggard – Smithsonian, 8/18/2015

It’s a tale of displaced workers, disease epidemics and gruesome deaths that will haunt ecologists and sociologists for decades to come. This is what went wrong in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, where farmers and indigenous peoples are still paying the price for a combination of poor government planning and limited knowledge about rainforest ecology.

In this week’s episode of Generation Anthropocene, produce Mike Osborne gets the incredible story of Rondônia from Bill Durham, an anthropologist and human ecologist at Stanford. He studies the ways human populations have adapted to their environments, and the reasons those same populations often seem to wreak havoc on the natural world around them.

According to Durham, the story of Rondônia kicks into gear in the late 1970s, when tens of thousands of agricultural workers found themselves out of jobs due to technology advances on farms. To address the issue, the Brazilian government looked to the untapped resources of the Amazon.

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Brazil looks to project scientific power on the Atlantic

Herton Escobar – Science, 8/7/2015

With 8500 kilometers of coastline and hundreds of marine scientists, Brazil has everything a country needs to make a mark in ocean research—everything except a world-class research ship, that is. That’s about to change. At a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on 23 July, Brazil unveiled its largest and most advanced scientific platform built for the high seas—a $77.5 million research vessel that scientists here hope will take them farther and deeper into the Atlantic Ocean than they have ever ventured.

Brazil is finally ready to start doing “grown-up” ocean science, says Andrei Polejack of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in Brasília. “We are very anxious to put this ship to work and start filling some of the big data gaps that still exist in the South Atlantic Ocean.” But some academics worry that prospecting for mineral resources will dominate research aboard the ship, which was two-thirds funded by Petrobras and Vale, Brazil’s largest oil and mining companies.

Christened the Vital de Oliveira after a 19th century Brazilian Navy hydrographer, the 78-meter-long vessel, equipped with a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving to 4000 meters, can berth 40 scientists for up to a month at sea. That puts it in the same league as the most capable research vessels fielded by the United States and Europe.

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Rio triathlon overshadowed by doping and virus fears

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 8/2/2015

In the biggest test yet of preparations for the 2016 Games, hundreds of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls swam, cycled and ran under the limpid blue skies of Copacabana over the weekend, but the glorious scenes were partly overshadowed by fears about water quality and new revelations of industrial-scale doping in international sport.

The triathlon qualifiers, which saw podium finishes for two UK athletes, came at the start of a week of competition and celebration as Rio de Janeiro moved into the final year of its countdown towards the opening ceremony next 5 August at the Maracanã stadium.

The festivities, however, have been marred by an exposé last week of the contamination of water at several venues, and Sunday’s report that a third of Olympic and world championship medals for endurance events in recent years were won by athletes who recorded suspicious doping tests. This included 10 golds won at London 2012.

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Sailing Federation will test waters for viruses in Brazil’s Olympics venues

Bill Chappell – NPR, 8/1/2015

Saying that recent stories about raw sewage in Brazilian waterways that will serve as Olympics venues in 2016 helped “wake us up again and put this back on the agenda,” the head of sailing’s world governing body says his group will test for viruses and bacteria in the water.

The International Sailing Federation’s chief executive, Peter Sowrey, tells the AP that the move is prompted by concerns over athletes’ health and safety.

The news comes days after the AP published a report on pollution in Rio’s Guanabara Bay, the scene for sailing competitions in next summer’s Olympic Games, and Rodrigo de Freitas lake, which will host rowing and canoeing events.

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Water in Brazil Olympic venues dangerously contaminated

CNBC – 7/29/2015

Athletes competing in next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

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Sebastião Salgado focuses on big picture with parable of reforestation in Brazil

John Vidal – The Guardian, 7/27/2015

When the renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado took over family land in the state of Minas Gerais, instead of the tropical paradise that he remembered as a child, he found the trees cut down and the wildlife gone. He was devastated.

It was 1994 and he had just returned from a traumatic assignment reporting on the genocide in Rwanda, he told a meeting of religious leaders discussing climate change in Paris last week.

“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” said Salgado. “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees. Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest. And when we began to do that, then all the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”

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Brazil prosecutors investigate death of thousands of aquarium fish

AFP – The Guardian, 7/12/2015

A Brazilian plan to create the world’s largest freshwater aquarium has backfired spectacularly after more than 10,000 fish in temporary holding tanks died suddenly.

Prosecutors in Campo Grande, the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state, are investigating who is at fault after the local government and the company that dealt with the fish blamed each other.

Billed as “the biggest freshwater aquarium in the world” by the former governor of the state, work on the $53m (£34m) facility was supposed to have been completed at the end of last year but has been delayed, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.

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