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After nearly 80 days of quarantine, rare species return to Rio’s Guanabara Bay

. Jun 14, 2020
After the quarantine, rare species return to Rio’s Guanabara Bay Flamengo Beach, in Rio. Photo: Bruno Martins Imagens/Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay might be best-known for postcard-perfect attractions such as the Christ the Redeemer statue and the Sugarloaf Mountain. Still, it is also notorious for its rampant pollution. Nearly 80 days after Rio initiated social isolation measures, the bay has seen the return of several of its rarest species, making for a colorful display underwater that contrasts with the surface’s dark pollution tones.

Ricardo Gomes, a biologist and director of the Urban Sea Institute, recorded the reappearance of long unspotted, colorful species such as the pink flying gurnard and the fluorescent blue marine angelfish, in his first dive since the start of the pandemic.

“I was so amazed by what I saw that I used up the very last breath of my oxygen tank. I did not want to leave. The water was not even that clean, but the [Guanabara] Bay surprised me,” said Mr. Gomes, who has been diving in the bay for 30 years. “I saw species that I’ve never seen before, like the rainbow parrotfish, that are part of the local fauna, but are usually extremely hard to spot.”

Neglecting our sea treasures

Mr. Gomes explains that the reduction in fishing and other marine activities in the Guanabara Bay may have aided the reappearance of some of its 202 fish species. He cautions, however, that their return has little to do with a supposed pollution decrease. The bay’s leading polluter, Rio de Janeiro’s sewage system, is still contaminating waters at its regular rates.

On average, the bay is capable of renewing around half of its water every 12 days, which recently hasn’t been enough to handle the high sewage levels regularly dumped on it, Mr. Gomes warns. “I believe the coronavirus taught us how fragile life is. We should take this lesson [to heart] on our relationship with the environment and protect the treasures we have at the Guanabara [Bay], our home,” he added.

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Rafael Lima

Rafael is a Communication student at Wake Forest University, and a student fellow of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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