A huge brown plume of mud and mining waste spread out along the coast
of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo on Monday, a little over two
weeks after the collapse of a dam at an iron ore mine.
According to projections from Brazil’s environment ministry, the tide
is expected to spread along 5.5-mile (9km) stretch of the coastline,
threatening the Comboios nature reserve, one of the only regular nesting
sites for the endangered leatherback turtle.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s awful; it’s a calamity,” Joca Thome,
the national coordinator of the marine conservation organisation Tamar,
told the press after flying over the area. “It looks like brown gelatin
spreading out to sea.”
Around 50m cubic metres of mining residue has been working its way
down the Rio Doce since the accident at the Fundão dam, controlled by
the mining company Samarco, on 5 November.
The mud has extinguished vast amounts of plant and animal life along a
400-mile (650km) stretch of the river, with the heightened turbidity
drastically reducing the levels of oxygen in the water.
Concern over toxins in the mining residue has led the national water
agency, ANA, to ban the use of the river water for human consumption.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in the area are still dependent on
supplies of bottled water.
Over the past few days, Samarco, a joint venture between the Brazilian firm Vale and the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton, has contracted fishermen in the coastal village of Regência to install protective barriers along the estuary of the Rio Doce.
Diggers have also been working to widen the mouth of the river to
ensure that the mud drifts out to sea as quickly as possible, in the
hope that the salinity and the volume of water will aid its rapid
The water in the estuary began turning brown on Saturday afternoon,
as a crowd of angry locals gathered by the village dock to watch. The
first dead fish began floating to the surface on Sunday.