Keep Your Mouth Closed: Aquatic Olympians Face a Toxic Stew in Rio

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 07/27/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — Health experts in Brazil have a word of advice for the Olympic marathon swimmers, sailors and windsurfers competing in Rio de Janeiro’s picture-postcard waters next month: Keep your mouth closed.

Despite the government’s promises seven years ago to stem the waste thatfouls Rio’s expansive Guanabara Bay and the city’s fabled ocean beaches, officials acknowledge that their efforts to treat raw sewage and scoop up household garbage have fallen far short.

 In fact, environmentalists and scientists say Rio’s waters are much more contaminated than previously thought.

True crime is jeopardizing the future of the Amazon, but indigenous groups and Brazil’s police are fighting back – together

Steve Schwartzman – Environmental Defense Fund, 07/13/2016

A new operation against land grabbers and illegal loggers in Brazil’s state of Pará is showing how collaboration between indigenous and forest communities and law enforcement can take on the biggest ongoing threats to the Amazon forest: illegal logging and illegal deforestation for land grabbing.

Launched June 30th, the operation started with an investigation two years ago after leaders from the Kayapô indigenous group reported clandestine deforestation on the western border of their territory to the Brazilian federal environmental enforcement agency, IBAMA.

Guided by the Indians, IBAMA agents discovered encampments of workers who were clearing the forest in the indigenous territory and on adjacent public land, while leaving the tallest trees; this hid the illegal deforestation from satellite monitoring. The workers, who according to police labored under semi-slave conditions, would then burn the understory and plant pasture grass. Meanwhile, another part of the gang surveyed and forged land registry documents to sell the land. IBAMA agents shut down the camps, detained personnel and issued fines – and brought in the Prosecutor’s Office and Federal Police to investigate.

Brazil’s new government may be less likely to protect the Amazon, critics say

Dom Phillips and Nick Miroff – The Washington Post, 05/22/2016

Signs of a rightward turn by Brazil’s new government have alarmed conservationists and climate change activists who fear a rollback of environmental laws that could accelerate deforestation in the Amazon basin.

With Brazil’s economy in its worst slump since the 1930s, new leader Michel Temer took power this month promising a more business-friendly agenda to spur growth. Temer named a ­conservative-leaning cabinet whose members include figures with close ties to powerful landowners and agribusiness companies.

Temer has taken control in South America’s largest nation — and the world’s biggest rain forest — at a time when Brazilian lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of environmental laws. This includes a controversial constitutional amendment known as PEC 65 that would reduce licensing requirements for development projects and limit judicial oversight of their impact.

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Brazil Scientists Fear Golden Mussel Threat to Amazon River

Jenny Barchfield – ABC News, 2/5/2015

The world’s mightiest waterway, the Amazon River, is threatened by the most diminutive of foes — a tiny mussel invading from China.

Since hitching its way to South America in the early 1990s, the golden mussel has claimed new territory at alarming speeds, plowing through indigenous flora and fauna as it has spread to waters in five countries. Now, scientists fear the invasive species could make a jump into the Amazon, threatening one of the world’s unique ecological systems.

“There’s no doubt the environmental effect would be dramatic,” said Marcia Divina de Olivieira, a scientist with the Brazilian government’s Embrapa research agency.

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Brazil sees “surprising” deforestation drop in Amazon

BBC News, 11/26/2014

Brazil said deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has dropped by 18% in the past year. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the fall, for the year ending July 2014, meant deforestation was at its second lowest level in 25 years.

But campaigners say alternative monitoring shows an increase for a second year running.

In 2012 the government eased restrictions on landowners, weakening legal protection for the rainforest. Ms Teixeira said 4,848 square kilometres (1,872 square miles) of rainforest were destroyed between August 2013 and July 2014. The figure was down from 5,891 kilometres (2,275 square miles) during the same period a year earlier.

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Water War Amid Brazil Drought Leads to Fight Over Puddles

David Biller and Vanessa Dezem – Bloomberg, 11/25/2014

Brazil’s Jaguari reservoir has fallen to its lowest level ever, laying bare measurement posts that jut from exposed earth like a line of dominoes. The nation’s two biggest cities are fighting for what little water is left.

Sao Paulo state leaders want to tap Jaguari, which feeds Rio de Janeiro’s main source. Rio state officials say they shouldn’t suffer for others’ mismanagement. Supreme Court judges have summoned the parties to Brasilia for a mediation session this week.

The standoff in a nation with more water resources than any other country in the world portends further conflicts as the planet grows increasingly urban. One in three of the world’s 100 biggest cities is under water stress, according to The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

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FAPESP Countdown: “The many faces of the sertão”

The Brazil Institute is counting down to this year’s FAPESP Week (November 17-21), organized in collaboration with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. The symposium aims at strengthening the links between scientists from Brazil and the U.S. with the objective of promoting research partnerships. Find out more about the 2014 FAPESP Week in California here

Rodrigo de Oliveiro Andrade – Pesquisa FAPESP, 2014 Print Edition, Published in July 2013


During an 1818 Austrian expedition to Brazil—a scientific investigation that brought over researchers and artists to study and depict species and landscapes characteristic of Brazilian biodiversity—two naturalists, Carl Friedrich von Martius and Johann Baptiste von Spix, were struck by the diversity of vegetation in a forest that was theoretically rare for the region around the banks of the São Francisco River in what is now the municipality of Januária, in Minas Gerais State. Their fascination was largely justified by the fact that the vegetation was in an area that was part of the Caatinga, an ecosystem identified by a predominantly semi-arid climate and scarce, highly variable water availability. The two German naturalists probably thought, like many others, that the Caatinga is a homogeneous environment, but that is not the case.

“The region has a wide variety of environmental conditions that are essential to the emergence and sustenance of a number of species well adapted to the regional climate,” said biologist Bráulio Almeida Santos of the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), in a lecture he presented at the fifth BIOTA-FAPESP Education Conference Cycle, on June 20, 3013 in São Paulo.

The Caatinga, he explained, presently occupies 11% of Brazilian territory, an area approximately 845,000 square kilometers (km2) in size. It is divided into eight ecoregions—each having very distinct landscapes, soil types and vegetation—that can receive rainfall of less than 1,000 millimeters in a year’s time. “In some areas, a dry spell can last as long as 11 months,” he said. The region is currently experiencing its worst drought in 30 years, affecting the lives of 27 million people. In the state of Bahia alone, over 214 municipalities have declared a state of emergency this year.

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Article and photo courtesy of Revista Pesquisa FAPESP.