After Rio 2016: Resilience of Baía de Guanabara targeted in new documentary

© Ricardo Gomes

The Baía de Guanabara was the site of several sporting events during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The pollution of this body of water, which hugs the coast of Rio de Janeiro on the southeastern point of Brazil, has been a subject of notoriety in the global news coverage of the games. The situation of the Baía de Guanabara is more than just about keeping the bay beautiful for the Olympic Games; there is still life in the Baía de Guanabara – and many people whose lives depend on this rich marine biodiversity.

This is the stance of a local biologist, Ricardo Gomes, who is advocating for the urgent need to save the bay. Gomes has spent two decades swimming, diving, analyzing and filming the waters of the bay. In a documentary co-produced with the UNDP RIO+ Centre, to be launched early 2017, Gomes uses more than 100 hours of footage from the bay to highlight, not the pollution, but the fact that there is a vibrant array of marine life in the bay. The launch will be held at Rio’s newest iconic museum, the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow).

The new film, called ‘Baía Urbana’, is a testament to the resilience of ecosystems and the people of Baía de Guanabara, one of the largest bays on Earth. In fact, over 20,000 fishermen live around the Guanabara, but less than 20% of the bay is available for fishing today. Out of the 465 tons of organic discharge which flows into the bay every day, only 68 tons is treated.[1] Besides sewage, industrial liquid wasters are responsible for the pollution caused by toxic substances and heavy metals in the Guanabara waters. [2]


©Ricardo Gomes

Gomes, who studied marine biology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, already launched another documentary about the marine life on the beaches of Copacabana and Leblon, two popular beaches in the Southern Zone of the city, called “Mar Urbano”. In the new documentary, also supported by OceanPact, Gomes explores the bay’s waters, highlighting the different species of marine life, some which are served at many restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, which are at risk of dying if the bay is not treated properly.

“There’s still time,” Gomes said in an interview with BBC. “We’re at the limit now, on that it’s still possible to resume and reconstruct. It was done with the Floresta da Tijuca (The Tijuca National Forest) and it can also be done with the Guanabara Bay. I believe in that,” he said.

Gomes calls the Bay a type of “Blue Amazon” or a submerged Amazonian forest, mentioning that it’s much easier to preserve what you can see, and it’s difficult to create public pressure for marine life because of its submerged nature. Through the film, he hopes to shed light on the wonder of the bay’s life to pressure civil society and government to take action.

“What can I say about diving to the bottom, at 12 meters of depth, close to Botafogo, and to be surrounded by a shoal of squid? Close to the Aterro, the cars, the noise and confusion of the city. And I’m there in another world. It’s magical,” Gomes told O Globo.

The project is an example of advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide concrete roadmap for development that is inclusive of three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. The collaboration with UNDP RIO+ Centre will also allow the global dissemination of the documentary as a powerful learning and advocacy tool on building resilience.


Submarine images show remaining life in Guanabara Bay. ©Ricardo Gomes

The SDG 6, on Clean Water and Sanitation is about ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, by improving water quality, reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse. One of them most important facets of the goal is supporting and strengthening the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

SDG 14, conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development directly addresses the impact of marine pollution, in particular from land-based activities. Within this goal one of the recommendations is to enhance the conservation of marine life by implementing international law as reflected in the UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In an unprecedented international coalition, the Clean Urban Delta Initiative from the Dutch environment ministry brought together NGOs and businesses to help clean up the bay with proposed sustainable solutions including creating carpets from recovered nylon fishing nets for high impact and low cost.[3] However, the funding for the project is not available for the Rio government to implement.

Gomes recommends that the government keep its promise to the city of Rio and the bay by stopping untreated sewage from entering the waters and using fiscal policy to prohibit dozens of industrial entities from throwing heavy metals and other residue in the way with impunity, particularly the oil industry. To date, the state government has raised treatment from 11% from the beginning of the Olympic bidding process, to 51% today. One treatment plant in Alcantara, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, is scheduled to begin treating 1,200 liters of sewage per second after the Olympics.


Related articles:

BBC Brasil

TV Brasil

TV Globo – Bom Dia Rio

TV Globo – RJ TV

Jornal O Globo


[1] Young, J. (2016, March 2). Rio’s Bay of All Delights” The Polluted Waters of the 2016 Olympics. VICE.

[2] Piccin, J. D. (2011). Sustainable Development Programs in Rio de Janeiro: Assessing Conflicts Between the Environment, Society, and Industry. 2nd World Sustainability Forum.

[3] The Guardian, ¨Funding problems hit plan to clean Rio´s polluted waterways ahead of Olympics.¨Feb 01, 2016

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