Spectacular mountains, cliffs and beaches line Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. But there are no swimmers in the water. Rio de Janeiro’s bay is beautiful only from a distance.
About 80 percent of the city’s sewage flows directly into the water; rivers and canals carry discarded waste into the sea.
Approximately eight million people live along the coastline of Guanabara. Yet, the Brazilian company Petrobras drills for oil in the middle of the bay, putting the sensitive area at high risk for an environmental disaster. It’s mouth to the Atlantic ocean is only 1.5 kilometers wide.
Years of neglect have polluted the water so much that the risk for swimmers to get a rash has increased. Sailors complain about large pieces of wood or even TV sets floating around, posing a threat to their boats.
The local dolphin population has shrunk to about 40 animals since 1980, when a school of 400 dolphins roamed the bay.
As part of the preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games Rio’s municipal and state authorities have invested 398 million Euros to clean up the bay.
New sewage treatment plants are supposed to filter 80 percent of the sewage, new barriers in rivers and canals stop the steady stream of trash and garbage. Special boats scour the bay to collect drifting pieces of trash.
It takes approximately two weeks for local underwater currents to exchange about half of the water in Guanabara Bay. Dirty water remains in the bay too long, causing its beaches to be a lot more polluted than beaches such as Copacabana or Ipanema, which face the Atlantic Ocean. However, beaches like Leblon, where pipes cast sewage into the water, show negative quality results in this part of the city as well.
To prevent solid waste from washing into the sea, 14 river barriers block the way for floating plastic, woods and other trash. Of these barriers, 11 are located in rivers or canals ending in Guanabara Bay. The other three barriers block the garbage in rivers leading directly to the Atlantic Ocean.
By the end of 2014, Rio’s state secretariat of environment plans to install eight more barriers in the bay area.
Map: Degree of pollution at beaches in Rio between 2005 and 2013
light = good water quality, dark = bad water quality / coordinates of the barriers in rivers and canals