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Transgenic glowing fish invades Brazilian streams

Transgenic glowing fish invades Brazilian streams

Aquarium curiosity appears to be thriving after escape from fish farms and may threaten local biodiversity.

Fish genetically engineered to glow blue, green, or red under blacklight have been a big hit among aquarium lovers for years. But the fluorescent pet is not restricted to glass displays anymore. The red- and green-glowing versions, more vivid than normal zebrafish even in natural light, have escaped fish farms in southeastern Brazil and are multiplying in creeks in the Atlantic Forest, a new study shows. It is a rare example of a transgenic animal accidentally becoming established in nature, and a concern for biologists, who worry the exotic fish could threaten the local fauna in one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet.

“This is serious,” says ecologist Jean Vitule at the Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba. Vitule, who was not part of the research, says the ecological impacts are unpredictable. He worries, for example, that the fluorescence-endowing genes from the escapees could end up being introduced in native fish with detrimental effects, perhaps making them more visible to predators. “It’s like a shot in the dark,” he says.

The unwelcome visitors are well known to scientists who have used zebrafish (Danio rerio) for developmental and genetic studies for decades. Native to Southeast Asia, the match-size freshwater fish were engineered to glow for research purposes in the late 1990s by endowing them with genes from fluorescent jellyfish (for blue and green colors) and coral (for red). In the 2000s, companies saw the potential of the neon fish as pets. Trademarked as Glofish, they became the world’s first genetically engineered species to be commercially available.

Now, they are one of the first to escape and thrive in nature. Early on, environmentalists worried about the possibility, and Glofish sales were banned in some U.S. states such as California and several countries—including Brazil.

In 2014, a single Glofish was spotted in canals near ornamental fish farms in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. But it had not multiplied, probably because native predators such as the eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) and the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) ate the interloper, says the biologist who spotted the transgenic animal, Quenton Tuckett of the University of Florida.

Brazil is proving more hospitable. André Magalhães, a biologist at the Federal University of São João del-Rei’s main campus, first spotted groups of the engineered zebrafish swimming in the Paraíba do Sul River Basin in 2015, in slow-moving creeks. The waters border the largest ornamental aquaculture center of Latin America, in Muriaé, and Magalhães says the fish probably escaped some of the center’s 4500 ponds, which release water into the streams.

Unlike Florida, the Brazilian creeks don’t have any local predators for zebrafish, and Magalhães believes they are now thriving. In 2017 he and colleagues began to survey five creeks in three municipalities, finding transgenic zebrafish in all of them. Every 2 months over 1 year, they collected and measured the animals and their eggs and analyzed their stomach content to see what they were eating.

The fish are reproducing all year round, with a peak during the rainy season—just as native zebrafish do in Asia. But the transgenic fish seem to achieve sexual maturity earlier than their forebears, which allows them to reproduce more and spread faster. The invaders are also eating well: a diversified diet of native insects, algae, and zooplankton, the researchers reported this week in Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment.


Meet Methuselah, the fish that likes to eat fresh figs, get belly rubs and is believed to be the oldest living aquarium fish in the world.


Species from around the world that are “hitching a lift” on ships threaten Antarctica’s pristine marine ecosystem.

“They are in the first stages of invasion with potential to keep going,” Magalhães says. Before long, he says, the fish could become plentiful enough to directly affect local species by competing for food or preying on them.

Despite Brazil’s ban on sales of the fish, local farms keep breeding them, and stores all over the country sell them as pets. They may soon colonize other parts of the country: Isolated Glofish individuals were spotted in ponds and streams in south and northeast Brazil in 2020.

Tuckett, whose lab in Florida is close to U.S. farms that grow hundreds of thousands of glowing fish, says the Brazilian detection “should be a wake-up call” for fish producers and natural resource managers in Brazil. But he is not terribly worried about impacts. He suspects the transgenic fish will encounter predators as they move to larger bodies of water. And the animals’ bright colors will make them vulnerable.

For now, the glowing fish “could be considered little weeds growing up out of the concrete,” Tuckett says. Magalhães likes the metaphor, but points out that even little weeds can grow to cause a lot of damage.


Sofia Moutinho at Science

Fears of oil spills as ExxonMobil seeks to drill at the mouth of a Brazil river

Fears of oil spills as ExxonMobil seeks to drill at the mouth of a Brazil river

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking to drill 11 wells in a marine area near the estuary of the São Francisco River in eastern Brazil.

The waters are choppy at the point where the São Francisco River meets the Atlantic Ocean, but Jailton Souza, a fisherman since he was a boy, calmly guides the boat along. He’s used to taking tourists to the river’s mouth, which marks the border between the eastern Brazilian states of Sergipe and Alagoas.

Meandering 2,830 kilometers (1,760 miles), the São Francisco is the longest river that runs entirely through Brazil. And its mouth is a spot of extreme beauty — a dazzle of mangrove forests and white sandy beaches where turtles lay their eggs — but one where, increasingly, signs of degradation are evident. “The seawater killed off the coconut palm groves and the rice plantations,” Jailton says, pointing.

The impacts of oil exploration on the São Francisco River are already being felt by fishermen like Jailton Souza. Image by Ailton Rocha da Cruz/Agência Pública.

Velho Chico, or Old Francis, as the river is known by the locals, can no longer contain the sea’s advance inland. The strength of the river’s flow has declined in recent years, the result of hydroelectric dams being built upstream and the diversion of large volumes of water to supply communities affected by extreme drought.

The most recent threat comes from oil and gas exploration in the area surrounding the river’s mouth. U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil has plans to drill 11 oil wells in the area immediately surrounding the estuary, in the Sergipe-Alagoas Basin.

The area that would be affected directly and indirectly by Project SEAL, as it’s known, is vast, stretching some 2,000 km (1,240 mi) from Alagoas south through the states of Sergipe, Bahia, Espírito Santo, to Rio de Janeiro. In the event of an oil spill, at least 52 conservation areas would be directly affected, including the Costa dos Corais Environmental Protection Area, one of seven areas considered crucial for the protection of Brazil’s coral reefs.

ExxonMobil is still awaiting an environmental license from IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental regulator, before it can start drilling. However, the company has already started to train local communities on how to deal with possible oil spills.

Local fishers told Agência Pública how the company had paid daily fees of up to 2,500 reais ($480) per boat to teach them things such as how to contain an underwater oil spill. Agência Pública’s reporters traveled more than 400 km (250 mi) by land and sea through Alagoas and Sergipe to visit the communities that would be most affected but that continue to be excluded from discussions surrounding the project.

IBAMA told news site InfoSãoFrancisco that it had not authorized the training sessions on how to deal with oil spills. The agency didn’t respond to Agência Publica’s request for comment on whether carrying out such training is a necessary stage in the licensing process. ExxonMobil’s history of environmental disasters includes one of the biggest oil spills in history, the 1989 episode known as the “black tide,” when one of the company’s tankers, the Exxon Valdez, spilled 37,000 metric tons of oil in Alaska.

For its Project SEAL, training activities have reportedly already taken place in at least four municipalities across Alagoas — Piaçabuçu, Coruripe, Jequiá da Praia, and Barra de São Miguel — as well as in the village of Saramém in Sergipe. The training sessions in each place usually lasted around 10 days, and were often announced and publicized by the local councils. In a statement, the Piaçabuçu municipal authorities told local residents about the installation of a structure, next to the town hall, that would be used for “practical training for the protection of the coast.”

For Divaneide Sousa, a coordinator from the civil society group Articulação do São Francisco, the local authorities are being co-opted by the oil giant. “They have an eye on the royalties from the oil,” she said.

The training sessions were jointly run by U.S. emergency management consultancy Witt O’Brien’s and Brazilian company OceanPact, which specializes in contingency plans for the oil industry and in environmental disaster response efforts. The two companies teamed up in a joint venture in 2011.

Witt O’Brien’s also signed off on the impact assessment for ExxonMobil’s project in the São Francisco estuary. In October 2019, the company was subject to a number of search and seizure warrants after being named as a “qualified individual” in the investigation into the Greek oil tanker Bouboulina, belonging to Delta Tankers Ltd., which was identified as being responsible for an oil spill along the Brazilian coast between 2019 and 2020.

At the time, nearly 5,000 metric tons of oil were removed from more than 1,000 sites across 11 states in Brazil, nine of them in the country’s northeast. Some 3,000 km (1,900 mi) of coastline were contaminated by oil, in what was the biggest environmental crime in Brazil’s history in terms of the total area affected.

The Federal Police only concluded their investigation into the disaster in December last year, in which it named a Greek oil tanker as the ship responsible for the spill, but stopped short of confirming whether it was the Bouboulina. They also didn’t disclose the name of the company at fault, or clarify whether Witt O’Brien’s had any links to the vessel.

Pools of oil on a beach show the extent of the 2019 spill along Brazil’s northeast coastline. Image by Brenda Alcântara/Agência Pública.

‘The end for the river’

In the event of an oil spill from ExxonMobil’s Project SEAL, the company’s own studies show that the town of Piaçabuçu would be one of the first places to be hit by such a disaster. The beach of Pontal do Peba, close to the town, is the last strip of sand at the point where the São Francisco River flows into the sea. Piaçabuçu, with just over 19,000 inhabitants, was once an important point of rice cultivation. But the increasing saltwater intrusion into the water table, caused by the weakening of the river’s flow, has effectively ended that industry.

With the loss of rice farming, fishing remains the major source of economic activity. The waters off Piaçabuçu are home to the largest shrimp population in northeastern Brazil, and the fourth largest in the whole country. Tourism is also a key revenue source for the municipality, but income from both industries has dwindled in recent years — first because of the 2019 oil spill, then followed by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Environmental Protection Area of Piaçabuçu, which protects threatened species such as sea turtles, is run on scarce resources. In September 2021, in response to ExxonMobil’s proposed project, the Federal Public Ministry in Alagoas quizzed protection areas across the region about their operating conditions in the event of an accident. The management of the Piaçabuçu Environmental Protection Area responded in an official letter, stating that the area has just “two employees and one vehicle,” and therefore doesn’t have the “operational capacity to neither protect against nor minimize the impacts that would result from an oil spill.”

At the end of 2021, representatives from ExxonMobil visited the fishing community in Piaçabuçu. “They asked us to nominate some fishermen for their training sessions,” says Antônio Amorim, president of the local fishing community, which has nearly 4,000 members. Sixty boats were chosen to take part in the training sessions, with the larger ones receiving 2,500 reais ($480) a day, and the smaller boats 2,000 reais ($380). “It was helpful for those who were out of work and relying upon Bolsa Família [a social welfare program] for their income,” Amorim says. He’s reluctant to criticize the project, but say another potential accident in a region that has already suffered an oil spill “is a massive worry.”

For Jasiel Martins, founder of the NGO Olha o Chico, the money from the training sessions was a means of “silencing people.” The organization is part of the managing council of the Piaçabuçu Environmental Protection Area, which was dismantled by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro — one of a whole range of structures that fostered civil engagement and participation in public management that have been dissolved by the government. The NGO, along with more than 100 other organizations, has signed a public letter speaking out against the construction of the oil well in the river’s mouth. The letter raises concerns about flaws in the project’s environment impact assessment and calls for the communities threatened by the project to be consulted through in-person public hearings, which have not taken place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the front line of the fight for the São Francisco River, Martins says he’s certain that “any accident would be the end for the river.” “It’s already a struggle to survive here. The aningas [freshwater plants] have disappeared, fish have migrated. Those of us living here on the banks of the São Francisco have it tough, we’re dependent on water trucks to bring us drinking water because the water supply here is too saline.”

The threat of an oil spill caused by ExxonMobil’s activities worries locals who depend on the river for their survival. Image by Ailton Rocha da Cruz/Agência Pública.

Quilombos at the oil’s mercy

The only way to get from Piaçabuçu in Alagoas to Brejo Grande in Sergipe is across the São Francisco River. The small ferry takes about an hour to reach the outskirts of Brejo Grande, the closest point of the coastline to the project’s drilling site, just 50 km (30 mi) away. In the event of a serious oil spill, oil slicks would reach this point of the coast in about two days, according to ExxonMobil’s own estimations.

Four quilombos — communities formed by Quilombolas, or Afro-Brazilian descendants of runaway slaves — are found in the municipality: Brejo Grande, Santa Cruz, Resina and Carapitanga. For the 480 families who live here, mainly traditional fishers and farmers, life is uneasy.

Studies show that the municipality of Brejo Grande, in the state of Sergipe, would be one of the first places to be hit in the event of an oil spill in the São Francisco river estuary. Image by Ailton Rocha da Cruz/Agência Pública.

Running water is scarce in the homes in the quilombos, and an internet connection even scarcer. An invitation to a digital hearing about ExxonMobil’s project therefore makes little sense.

“They asked us to come and watch the hearing on a big screen in Aracaju [the Sergipe state capital], a four-hour drive from here,” says Domenicio dos Santos, one of the quilombola community leaders. “And that was just for us to watch the proceedings, not even to have our voices heard.”

“They [ExxonMobil] turned up and started bothering us, offering us money and training sessions,” says Enéas Rosa, a fisherman and leader of the Resina quilombo. “We didn’t get involved because we understood what was at stake.”

Enéas Rosa, a local community leader, has criticized ExxonMobil’s attitude and behavior. Image by Ailton Rocha da Cruz/Agência Pública.

Tired from her daily chores, Maria Isaltina Silva, a leader of the Brejão dos Negros quilombo, leans on the window ledge of her house. From here, she can see the Sumidouro Lagoon, a place known for its tales of magic and witchcraft. Her family has lived in this area going back at least 300 years, fishing and harvesting crabs. “People talk about emancipation, but we weren’t emancipated. We’re still being persecuted, just in different ways,” she says. “If we want to preserve the marshes we have here, they turn up and destroy them. Our livelihood comes from the river and the marshes. We don’t know anything else.”

Quilombolas living in the region, like Maria Isaltina, could see their only means of subsistence threatened in the event of an oil spill. Image by Ailton Rocha da Cruz/Agência Pública.

Online public hearings without internet

Jane Teresa and Jerônimo Basílio, environmental lawyers from the Canoa de Tolda Society in Sergipe, signed a public civil lawsuit seeking to stop the public hearing on the project from taking place online, InfoSãoFrancisco reported. They said the scheduling of the hearing, a vital stage in the process of attaining an environmental license, didn’t meet legal requirements, such as prior consultation of the traditional communities as stipulated in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, which Brazil has ratified.

The Federal Public Ministry in both Sergipe and Alagoas states tried to cancel the online public consultation, in an attempt to guarantee the local population a fair and in-person hearing that would also abide by pandemic-related health protocols. However, the request was rejected by the courts. On Sept. 14, 2021, environmental regulator IBAMA carried out an online public hearing, broadcast via YouTube, featuring representatives from ExxonMobil and Witt O’Brien’s. Although some people received a link to participate and speak during the event, connection issues and problems with audio and video were the subject of constant complaints.

Questions during the hearing were selected and read out by Jônatas Trindade, the director for environmental licensing at IBAMA. Trindade even interrupted a representative from the fishing community as he was reading out an open letter from the communities against the project, alleging that the fisherman had passed his allotted time limit.

According to lawyer Jane Teresa, there are at least 116 quilombola communities in the region that would be affected by the project. “Many of these communities don’t have internet access, so how were they even going to participate?” She adds that ExxonMobil had submitted its environmental impact assessment after the deadline had already passed, “thereby prejudicing the principle of transparency.”

He colleague, Jerônimo Basílio, says it’s necessary to carry out more than one online hearing, “as established by Resolution 9/87 from the Nation Council for the Environment (CONAMA), given the complexity of the impacts that project would have, involving at least five states and 76 municipalities in its zone of influence,” he says.

Juliana Câmara, a lawyer with the Federal Public Ministry, sought to cancel the online hearing because of the loss of any effective popular participation. She filed a public civil lawsuit with an immediate injunction to urgently request the scheduling of a new, in-person public hearing with the participation of the traditional fishing communities who were excluded from the initial debate because of a lack of internet access. The request also calls for multiple public hearings to take place, “given the geographic range of the environmental impacts,” and for “a 10,000 reais [$1,900] fine for each administrative act carried out without the scheduling of the new in-person public hearing with the participation of traditional communities.” The courts have not yet responded to the request.

Câmara is used to monitoring activities that have a large socioenvironmental impact. But some aspects of this case in particular have grabbed her attention, she says. First and foremost, she says, is the way the environmental licensing process was rushed through. “What is also interesting is the way IBAMA has behaved, highlighting issues with the project, but then quickly accepting the company’s justifications,” she says. She adds the ExxonMobil, which had hoped to start drilling in the second half of the year, has made clear its dissatisfaction with the inquiries coming from the Federal Public Ministry and the resistance from the communities. “They have said that the delay in acquiring the environmental license will impact business interest in their concession.”

Câmara says she sought out expert analysis of the environmental impact assessment. “The experts highlighted the use of obsolete data, which did not take into account the synergistic nature of the activities, which go beyond the drilling and extraction itself and also include the movement of ships transporting the oil, gas and waste products, which will be taken to be treated in Niterói [in Rio de Janeiro state],” she says.

‘The last thing you would do’

Emerson Soares, a professor at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL), recalls the moment he spotted the first signs of the oil as he walked along the beach in August 2019. “I came across some sand dollars” — an animal similar to a sea urchin “that had oil stains. I took them with me so I could analyze them later. A couple of weeks later, a turtle washed up that was also covered in oil.” A fishing engineer with a Ph.D. in biotechnology, Soares led the task force that responded to the oil spill in Alagoas and coordinated scientific expeditions along the São Francisco River, collecting data and promoting efforts to raise environmental awareness.

“If common sense was taken into account at all, drilling for oil at the mouth of the river would be the last thing you would do,” he says. He questions the modeling used for Project SEAL’s environment impact assessment and the studies on the spread of potential oil spills, saying they’re outdated. “They don’t take into account the most recently published research on the flow of the São Francisco River, which is constantly changing. Nor does it take into account the levels of heavy metals present in the water, which increased significantly since the 2019 oil spill, and which polluted the area around the mouth of the river.”

In the event of an oil spill, Brejo Grande would be at risk of being polluted within approximately two days, according to modeling carried out by ExxonMobil. The map on the left shows the extent of a spill during summer, and the one of the right during winter. Image by ExxonMobil.

Given that the true socioenvironmental impacts of the 2019 oil disaster were never truly measured, let alone dealt with, Soares says he’s concerned by the high risks associated with new activity on the river. Although experts from ExxonMobil have made assurances that the risk of a leak from the oil wells targeted for extraction is low — a one in 30,000 chance — the projections made by Soares are alarming.

Because of the weakened flow of the river, owing to the water crisis and the construction of dams along the river’s course, among other factors, the São Francisco River would not be able to contain the spread of any oil spill in the river’s estuary. The whole region surrounding the river’s mouth would be severely contaminated by such a spill. In the worst-case scenario, Soares says, the oil would reach municipalities across the northern coast of Sergipe and the southern coast of Alagoas.

The severity of such an oil spill would depend entirely upon the extent of the leak, the response time, the time of year during which it occurred, and the currents. However, even in the most modest of scenarios, the municipalities surrounding the mouth of the São Francisco River would be the most vulnerable to contamination. What this would mean in effect is that all of the Environmental Protection Areas, the local communities and highly important economic activities for the region, such as tourism, fishing, and shrimp, oyster and clam harvesting, could be affected by such a disaster.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, testified at a U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing about Big Oil climate pledges on February 8, 2022. (Photo: Oversight Committee/YouTube/screenshot)


Michael Mann told a House panel that “investing in natural gas is crowding out investment in true clean, renewable energy that can help us decarbonize our economy and address the climate crisis.”

Dramatic footage purporting to show the Trinity Spirit vessel on fire circulated widely on social media.


Dramatic footage shared on social media shows the Trinity Spirit oil tanker on fire and apparently sinking, with thick plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky.

“That’s without even taking into account the São Francisco mangrove forests, which are home to nearly 50% of the region’s species,” Soares says. “And it’s not just about accidents, as the act of drilling for oil in and of itself has an impact in terms of the release of toxic waste materials and the increase in the number of vessels on the waterways that are involved in the extraction process, which would completely change the local dynamics and also bring invasive species to the region on the hulls of the ships.”

In response to questions from Agência Pública, ExxonMobil gave the following statement:

“With regard to the maritime oil wells in the Sergipe-Alagoas basin, ExxonMobil is following every recommendation and protocol coming from the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). Our priority is to preserve the health and security of the community and the environment. We would like to reinforce that numerous meetings took place with representatives from the communities in the project’s area of influence, as well as an online public hearing, led by IBAMA, which took place on September 14, 2021. The hearing was open to the public and was transmitted via Zoom, YouTube, and local radio stations, and is available for access via the following link: www.audienciapublicaExxonMobil.com.br/seal.”

In a statement, Witt O’Brien’s said that the consultancy was “not involved in any way in the oil disaster on the Brazilian coast” in 2019, nor did it have “any type of relationship with Delta Tankers.” The company also stated that “it was not named in the police inquiry,” as was suggested by the document released by the Federal Police in November 2019, but rather that it was contacted by the Federal Police in the course of investigations in order to “supply further information needed that could help with investigations.”

This article was first published here in Portuguese by Agência Pública and translated into English by Matty Rose from the Latin America Bureau at Mongabay

‘It’s as if we’re in Mad Max’: warnings for Amazon as goldmining dredges occupy river

‘It’s as if we’re in Mad Max’: warnings for Amazon as goldmining dredges occupy river

Hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges converge in search of metal as one activist describes it as a ‘free-for-all’

Environmentalists are demanding urgent action to halt an aquatic gold rush along one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, where hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges have converged in search of the precious metal.

The vast flotilla – so large one local website compared it to a floating neighbourhood – reportedly began forming on the Madeira River earlier this month after rumours that a large gold deposit had been found in the vicinity.

“They’re making a gram of gold an hour down there,” one prospector claims in an audio recording obtained by the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

Danicley Aguiar, an Amazon-based Greenpeace activist who flew over the mining flotilla on Tuesday, said he had been stunned by the magnitude of the illegal operation unfolding just 75 miles east of the city of Manaus.

Dredging rafts operated by illegal miners on the Madeira river, Brazil.
Dredging rafts operated by illegal miners on the Madeira river, Brazil. Photograph: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

“We’ve seen this kind of thing before in other places – but not on this scale,” Aguiar said of the hundreds of rafts he saw hoovering up the Madeira’s riverbed near the towns of Autazes and Nova Olinda do Norte.

“It’s like a condominium of mining dredges … occupying pretty much the whole river.”

Aguiar added: “I’ve been working in the Amazon for 25 years. I was born here and I’ve seen many terrible things: so much destruction, so much deforestation, so many illegal mines. But when you see a scene like that it makes you feel as though the Amazon has been thrust into this spiral of free-for-all. There are no rules. It’s as if we’re living in Mad Max.”

There was outrage as footage of the riverine gold rush spread on social media.

“Just look at the audacity of these criminals. The extent of the impunity,” tweeted Sônia Bridi, a celebrated Brazilian journalist known for her coverage of the Amazon.

André Borges, another journalist whose story helped expose the mining flotillatweeted: “We are witnessing, in 2021, a goldminers’ uprising with all the aggressiveness of the days of discovery.”

Brazil’s multimillion-dollar illegal mining industry has intensified since the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist who backs the wildcat garimpeiros who trawl the Amazon’s rivers and rainforests for gold.

As many as 20,0000 garimpeiros are believed to be operating within the supposedly protected Yanomami indigenous reserve in Roraima, one of nine states that makes up the Brazilian Amazon.

Deforestation has also soared under Bolsonaro, who has stripped back environmental protections and been accused of encouraging environmental criminals. Amazon destruction rose to its highest levels in 15 years between 2020 and 2021 when an area more than half the size of Wales was lost.

Last week the Bolsonaro administration was accused of deliberately withholding new government data laying bare the scale of the deforestation crisis to avoid international humiliation during the Cop climate summit, which Brazil’s president declined to attend.

Aguiar, a Greenpeace spokesperson for the Amazon, said Bolsonaro’s pro-development rhetoric was partly to blame for the gold rush playing out on the Madeira River. He also pointed the finger at regional politicians in the Amazon who supported plans to allow miners to exploit gold deposits in riverbeds.

In a recent interview, the former head of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama, Suely Araújo, said she saw only one way of saving her country’s environment: electing a different president.

“It’s hard to believe that this government is going to look after the environment because they are destroying everything,” said Araújo, a public policy specialist for the Observatório do Clima environmental group.


Tom Phillips at The Guardian

$200 million in gold extracted in Amazon mine through illegal licenses

$200 million in gold extracted in Amazon mine through illegal licenses

Gana Gold generated R$ 1.1 billion (US$ 200 million) in revenue using illegally-obtained environmental licenses in Brazil, equivalent to 3 tons of gold extracted.

By the company’s own reckoning, its operations should be producing annual revenues of around R$ 30 million ($6 million) if operating within licensing limits.

Located inside a conservation area, the company has extracted 32 times more gold than the projected estimate it made to the regulating agency.

An embargo has been placed on Gana Gold along with R$ 10 million (US$ 2 million) in fines following reports of illegal activity.

A gold mine hidden in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon generated nearly $200 million in revenue in just over a year for Gana Gold Mineração, according to Brazil’s National Mining Agency (ANM). In addition to the unusually high earnings, Gana Gold is also suspect for extracting 32 times more gold than their projected estimates.

Now under investigation by the Federal Police, Gana Gold is only able to operate because the municipality of Itaituba where it is located overruled state and federal legislation to license it — and because the ANM turned a blind eye to its operations. The case is an example of the discord between the institutions that should be protecting the Amazon, the permissiveness of governments focused on facilitating mining in the region, and the success of lobbies in Brasilia on the part of federal senators and congressmen in the Bolsonaro administration.

A six-month investigation of Gana Gold as it hit its first billion led to the company’s mine in the Amazon.

A leader in gold extraction in Brazil’s northern region, Gana Gold is responsible for 18% of all gold mined in the state of Pará, according to the company’s website. Its high level of productivity stands out simply because the operation was slated to extract only 96.53 kilograms of gold, according to information provided by Gana Gold to the sector’s regulating agency. By the company’s own reckoning, its operations should be producing annual revenues of around R$ 30 million ($6 million) if operating within licensing limits.

But the company has declared income of over R$ 1 billion ($200 million) since 2020. In the first eight months of 2021, it surpassed the estimates provided to the regulating agency for the year by 32 times.

The level of productivity is uncommon: if accurate, it would rank the Gana Gold mine above the planet’s most profitable operations. The average grade (the geological measure of the number of grams of ore per ton of raw material extracted from the earth) would be much higher than those found at neighboring mines. Gana Gold declined a request to be interviewed.

Gana Gold lies inside the  Tapajós APA (Environmentally Protected Area), outlined here in yellow near to the Munduruku Indigenous land and other federal Conservation Units.
Gana Gold’s mine, processing plant and airstrip in Itaituba, Pará. Photo by © Airbus DS / Earthrise, July 7, 2021.

The lucrative mine are inside a federally protected area neighboring the Munduruku Indigenous Land in Itaituba, a municipality in the southwest part of Pará State. The region is experiencing an actual gold rush that’s only intensified since the start of the Jair Bolsonaro administration in 2019. Bolsonaro is known to support clandestine prospectors and his administration has been fighting to legalize mining on Indigenous land.

It is a market that mobilizes billions of Brazilian reais every year, largely from undercover operations. More than one-fourth of the 174 tons of gold produced in Brazil in 2019 and 2020 was illegally mined, resulting in losses of R$ 9,8 billion ($ 2 billion) for the country according to a study carried out by researchers at Minas Gerais Federal University (UFMG) and by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF). The study was the basis for four MPF civil action suits in the state of Pará presented in July and August of this year, asking for suspension of prospectors in the region and of financial institutions accused of buying illegal gold until there is more control over sale of the ore. The suit does not apply to industrial gold mining, which is what Gana Gold does.

The study also shows that most of this production goes to countries like Canada, the U.K., and Switzerland. In the first half of 2021, the production of gold considered to be potentially illicit remained high, reaching 26% of the 46.8 tons of gold produced over the period, according to researcher Bruno Manzolli from UFMG.

Itaituba, where Gana Gold is headquartered, stands out in this scenario.

The UFMG researchers show that, together with the municipalities of Jacareacanga and Novo Progresso, Itaituba generated 85.7% of illegal gold sales with designation of origin in untouched areas with native forest between 2019 and 2020. In other words, ore was extracted illegally in other locations.

An institutional video produced by Gana Gold shows a large undertaking using heavy machinery and a processing plant. The mine even has its own landing strip built in 2018 on a site that, according to an MPF public civil action suit, was illegally deforested.

In the second half of 2020, the company extended the airstrip, which is now 850 meters long. Itaituba is among the municipalities with the worst deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon according to a study by IMAZON (the Institute of Amazonian Man and Environment) published in June of this year.

Despite the fact that it is a mega undertaking, the company holds only one license, which was granted by the municipality of Itaituba — even though municipalities have no legal authority to license gold mining. Still, the ANM — the federal regulating agency for the sector — accepted the document and allowed the company to operate in March, 2020, contrary to the agency’s own legal norms.

Because of the type of mining carried out there, involving heavy machinery equipped to remove 50,000 tons of earth annually to find gold, and classified as a high environmental risk under federal legislation, the license should be granted by the government of Pará State. Typically during the licensing process, the state secretariat requires a company to carry out an environmental impact study and later present this document to the ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute of Conservation and Biodiversity), which is the federal regulator for preserved areas. Environmental protection laws on the books also require that the license should only be given if the institute concedes authorization for environmental licensing, or ALA, after analyzing the possible environmental impacts of the proposed activity.

In the case of Gana Gold, none of the above was carried out.

Fool’s gold

Gana Gold’s success story began in June, 2016 when a company called J.J.G.E. filed a gold ore research request for an area comprising 4,183 hectares near Água Branca, a prospecting community in Itaituba settled at the end of the 1970s. The site had been studied by another mining company, Brazauro Recursos Minerais, between 2006 and 2013. It concluded a report on the financials of exploration and the site was abandoned definitively in 2015.

Brazauro’s 2015 report also affirms that the company reported the presence of illegal prospectors at the location in 2012. Satellite images show that by 2016 there was illegal prospecting going on at the mine under the umbrella of J.J.G.E. It is impossible, however, to determine exactly who was responsible for the activity.

Then at the start of 2017, J.J.G.E. was given a license from the government mining regulators at the ANM to carry out a new study. That study found that the mine would be economically viable for exploration. After the study, the next step would have been to seek permission to remove the ore — what the ANM classifies as a “mining concession requirement.” However, the company chose to take an easier route to be able to start operations and requested a Guide for Use (GU) for experimental mining — a type of simplified authorization for extraction that can be granted during the research phase.

Although it involves less bureaucracy, a GU requires the applying party to present an environmental license. This means that in order to remove ore, the company must seek out the appropriate environmental agencies and present and environmental impact analysis together with a compensation proposal.

This is not what J.J.G.E. did.

In April 2018, the company instead handed the mine over to M.M. Gold Mineração, owned by Marcio Macedo Sobrinho, the current author of the mining requirement.

The licensing process should have been carried out by the Pará State Government, under jurisdiction of the State Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainability, or SEMAS. According to the full text of the mining process filed at the agency, the company even requested a license from the state secretariat in December 2018, but then changed its strategy. According to the company, though, it was only after “gaining knowledge” that the request could be made with the municipal environmental agency — even though, in reality, the municipal secretary has no authorization to grant it.

Based on this interpretation, the company used loopholes in established procedures and gained a license from City Hall in Itaituba to operate in just nine days. A document sent to the ANM on September 16, 2019 demonstrates the unusually rapid approval process. Typically, according to two environmental analysts interviewed for this report, this procedure takes anywhere from 30-60 days in order to carry out an analysis of relevant environmental impact documents.

The remarkably short time frame becomes even more confounding when one Guilherme Aggens enters the story. A forestry engineer and partner in Geoconsult, a consulting firm for the mining industry that had carried out some technical studies for Gana Gold, Aggens has a history of travel with politicians to Brasilia to lobby for the sector. The company granted him power of attorney on September 24 — eight days after it applied for the operating license with the city — granting him power over all administrative procedures regarding the mine with the Environmental Departments of the state of Pará, of Itaituba and also with the ANM. On the following day, the city’s Secretary of the Environment and Mining, Bruno Rolim da Silva, granted Gana Gold the license.

The dates could be a mere coincidence if, a week before, Aggens hadn’t posted photos of himself on a trip with Rolim on social media to lobby for the mining sector in Brasilia. The posts show meetings with politicians that support prospecting in the Amazon, especially on Indigenous lands, like senator Joaquim Passarinho of the PSD party of Pará and Itaituba city councilman Wescley Tomaz of the MDB party. During the trip, they also managed time in the agenda of then-Chief of Staff, senator Onyx Lorenzoni, close ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, who today is Minister of Labor and Social Security.

Senator Joaquim Passarinho and councilman Wescley Tomaz are also frequently seen on visits to heads of Ministries in the national capital for the purpose of lobbying, especially for the loosening of laws regarding prospecting in the Amazon. In May of this year, Tomaz and Aggens met with then-minister of the Environment  Ricardo Salles, who openly supports prospecting on Indigenous lands and is currently under investigation by the Federal Police for his involvement with the illegal extraction of wood. Tomaz and Aggens were together in Brasilia once again at the end of August, this time to participate in a hearing by the Congressional Commission of Mines and Energy overseen by senator Passarinho to discuss the legalization of illegal prospectors in the Tapajós region.

Aggens and Rolim’s relationship doesn’t appear to have begun with the Gana Gold mine. Both also appear standing together with the newly-elected Jair Bolsonaro in a photo published in November 2018 by attorney Fernando Brandão, a resident of Itaituba. A year later, Brandão would participate, together with prospectors, in a secret meeting with Ministers Ricardo Salles and Onyx Lorenzoni to place pressure on the government to punish IBAMA officials who had burned machinery used in environmental crimes.

City Hall of Itaituba was contacted about the mistakes in the license granted Gana Gold on July 14 asking which environmental legislation allows a municipality to grant a license for the mining company’s activity. No response was received. Secretary Bruno Rolim da Silva was contacted directly via WhatsApp on his personal number as to whether his relationship with engineer Guilherme Aggens influenced the fact that the concession was emitted in only nine days. No response was received, but there was a reaction from the company.

Also on July 14 about five hours after the inquiries were sent, Gana Gold filed a partial cession request with the ANM to transfer 4,001 hectares of M.M. Gold’s solicitation, which was originally for 4,183 hectares. However, the gold mine is situated precisely on the 182 hectares that were left to M.M. This is also where the processing plant and the landing strip are located. Aggens never answered the questions I sent to him asking for an explanation on why this change was requested, coincidentally, on the same day that I had questioned the company.

The mine’s authorization is also missing another important stamp of approval: that of ICMBio. As the operation lies within a federal conservation unit — the Tapajós Environmentally Protected Area bordering the Munduruku Indigenous Territory — the license should only be granted after ICMBio authorizes it. Incidentally, this requirement for ICMBio approval could cease to exist if the bill altering environmental licensing, which was approved in Brazil’s congress in May, is passed by the Senate and made into law.

Three inquiry emails were sent between July and August to ICMBio’s press office, but the only response came from the agency for the Information Access Law (LAI) on September 1.

“At no point in time was any communication sent to ICMBio from environmental agencies, state or municipal, about environmental licensing for the mining process 850.397/2016 [the registry for the mine where Gana Gold extracts], which is for mineral research with a Guide for Use, in which case an environmental license and ICMBio authorization are obligatory,” states the agency response.

The bureaucratic soap opera ended in March, 2020 when the ANM shrugged off Brazilian environmental legislation and accepted the illegal document presented by Gana Gold, conceding permission for the company to mine 36.6 hectares — the area where extraction takes place withing the 4,183 hectares included in the original petition.

Carolina Santana, an attorney for the Human Rights Observatory for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples, argues that processes already in place can’t simply be set aside.

“You are not allowed to choose the licensing agency for your undertaking,” Santana said in an interview. “Environmental legislation determines this. Independent of who made mistakes in this case, there are a number of illegal elements in this licensing process that must be investigated, mostly because of the presence of Indigenous communities in the APA Tapajós region.”

Helder Barbalho’s administration guaranteed Gana Gold’s operation when it signed an agreement with the company and five other mining companies to expand gold extraction in the state of Pará. Photo by Marco Santos/Agência Pará.

The Pará Agreement

As of September 2021, the Pará state government had not directly analyzed Gana Gold’s mining project because the company did not request its license from the state agency. In February, Pará Governor Helder Barbalho signed an agreement with six companies, including Gana Gold, to promote the gold industry in the state. The objective is to refine the ore in the state.

The grave errors in Gana Gold’s licensing process haven’t yet gotten a response from Barbalho’s administration. An email sent to his cabinet and to SEMAS requesting information about the agreement made with the company and asking if the government plans to maintain the agreement. A press officer from SEMAS did respond that they had granted no licenses to Gana Gold. Queries sent to gubernatorial advisors via WhatsApp received no response.

Gana Gold’s mine lies in the Tapajós Gold Province in the southwest of Pará, where conflicts over the precious metal are a threat the Munduruku Indigenous people and conservation units in the area.

Professor Luiz Jardim Wanderley from the Geography Department at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) explains, “There are three factors at work bringing more prospecting to the Tapajós region: first, a surplus of manpower because of the unemployment rate and Brazil’s economic situation, which was worsened by the pandemic; second, the rising price of gold; and third, of course, the actions the Bolsonaro administration has taken to weaken environmental controls, which encourages those investing in illegal mining.” Wanderley coordinated the report O Cerco do Ouro [The Gold Siege] together with researcher Luísa Molina for the National Committee for the Defense of Territories Against Mining. Published in April 2021, the document analyzes increased illegal mining on Munduruku lands.

In the Brazilian market, the price of gold is US dollar denominated. During times of economic crisis, it becomes a safe port for investors, which drives up the price. This was one of the factors that caused the price of gold to double between 2019 and 2020, reaching R$ 379 ($75) per gram between August and November last year. As vaccination moved forward in 2021, the price fell and is now around R$ 300 ($60)—a value 50% higher than before the pandemic.

Three cities in the region of the Tapajós and Jamanxim Rivers (see photo) were home to 85.7% of sales of illegal gold with designation of origin in untouched areas with native forest between 2019 and 2020. Photo by Felipe Werneck/IBAMA.

Gold Multiplied

With its license in hand in March 2020, Gana Gold began extracting gold and generated R$ 235 million ($47 million) during its first year of operations. Its performance ranked sixth among the state’s largest mining companies according to ANM data.

But it hasn’t all been easy for the company. In June, it was robbed by armed men who took 20 kilos of gold. No one has been arrested yet for the theft.

In 2021 alone, Gana Gold expanded its operation and reached R$ 883 million ($176 million) by August. However, according to the production estimate report that the company delivered to the ANM in October 2019, extraction at the site should generate up to 96.53 kg per year, which would result in estimated total annual revenue of around R$ 30 million ($6 million).

In order to generate R$ 883 million in revenues in 2021, Gana Gold would have to remove 3.14 tons of gold from its mine in the Amazon — 32 times its production estimate. This calculation relies on the same research methodologies as UFMG on illegal gold production cited by the federal prosecutor’s Office, which takes into consideration the information on weight and average gold prices in the tax month informed by the company on the ANM open data website.

In the opinion of researcher Luiz Jardim Wanderley, this discrepancy in values indicates that Gana Gold is extracting much more gold that it informed the ANM about.

“When it got its operating license quickly without having to go through the process of requesting a mining concession, the company produced no detailed analysis of incurrent environmental damage, nor did it promote the necessary public debate on those impacts, which is mandatory,” Wanderley said in an interview. “At any rate, the Guide for Use requires the company to present the appropriate environmental licenses. As the GU is supposedly used for smaller volumes, the environmental agencies ask for simplified procedures. However, Gana Gold has been operating at levels equal to an industrial mine.”

The large volume of ore extracted by Gana Gold in Itaituba also raises doubts as to the type of permission that was granted by the ANM, which was for experimental mining, comments Edson Farias Mello, Geology professor at Rio de Janeiro Federal University.

“It is uncommon for a gold mine to be developed under a Guide for Use, unless you’re talking about the initial phases for determining the character of the ore,” Mello said. “The concept of experimental mining covered by the GU is compatible with small volumes, which does not appear to the be the case [of Gana Gold. While the concession can take years to be granted, a GU is released in just a few months.”

But again on September 9, Gana Gold ran into trouble.

Around 30 Federal Police agents arrived at Gana Gold and served warrants to the company. They collected gold samples to verify whether the ore has the same geological characteristics as 39 kilograms of illegal gold seized at Jundiaí airport in the state of São Paulo in August.

During the operation, which was dubbed “Gold Rush,” Federal Police also arrested a man for carrying a gun with a serial number that had been scratched off. In a statement, without mentioning the name of Gana Gold, the Federal Police stated that the GU “was used to lend a legal appearance to illicit transactions involving a large volume of gold of spurious origin.”

According to the Federal Police the details of the ongoing investigation can’t be disclosed. They also state that those responsible could be held liable for crimes of usurpation of national assets, misrepresentation, illegal occupation of public lands, criminal organization and several other crimes against the flora.

The exorbitant numbers placed the Tapajós region’s new mining company at the top of the ranking of the state’s gold miners — up from sixth place — leaving behind companies with decades in the sector. Not bad for a company that holds no environmental license from the appropriate agency.

The volume reported by Gana Gold does not appear to be new information to the ANM — data on the operation is available on the agency’s website. The agency also, in a communication regarding the company’s mining process, admitted at the beginning of the year that it is “favorable to” the company’s goal to expand the mine, and highlighted that “the project is important within the mineral sector’s portfolio.”

I contacted ANM staff for further explanation. The agency’s ombudsman, Paulo Santana, responded that there is “nothing abnormal or illegal” in the case of Gana Gold. The response also said that the “mine’s grade” could be as high as “20 grams/ton.”

This information is not coherent with the geological study presented by Gana Gold, which indicated an average grade ten times lower, of just 1.97 g/t. “We are obligated to stimulate and foment the mineral sector,” wrote Santana in response to questions regarding the ANM’s position on Gana Gold’s expansion.

The ombudsman’s evaluation also ignores the company’s practical performance reported to the ANM last year. According to the data declared by the company, the mine in Itaituba has recorded an average grade of 62.70 g/t — based on the supposition that the company is operating legally.

Last year, Kitco, a site specialized in mining, highlighted a mine in Australia with the highest average grade of gold per ton in the world, of 42.4 g/t. In other words, lower than Gana Gold.

Nugget city

Itaituba’s economy is driven by the gold business — both legal and illegal. The town’s mayor, Valmir Climaco, is an ex-prospector and prospecting enthusiast in the pandemic who has been the object of several complaints and was condemned in 2019 for illegal deforestation of 746 hectares of native forest in a preserved area. That same year, the Federal Police found weapons and nearly 600 kg of cocaine on one of his farms in Itaituba. In a statement, he affirmed that the property had squatters living on it and that he had no relationship with the criminals imprisoned during the operation.

This is the history that led City Hall in Nugget City — as Itaituba is called — to grant Gana Gold its operating license. The document has serious informational errors, including citations of environmental laws that contradict the license itself.

The document’s first error has to do with the type of activity. In its title, the city states that Gana Gold has applied for Mineral Research with Experimental Mining, but on the next page, it refers to the PLG, or Permit for Prospect Mining, which is a more rudimentary activity, different from the license granted and with a simplified license. It also cites a particular distinction which deals with prospecting.

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In the patchwork of hills, lakes and sea that makes up England’s northwest corner, most people see beauty. Dave Cradduck sees broken dreams.

The coal mine where Cradduck once worked has long closed. The chemical factory that employed thousands is gone. The nuclear power plant is being decommissioned.

“Judging from the equipment used by the company and its processing — which includes crushing rocky material — it is clear that the company is working with primary ore,” stated geologist Edson Farias Mello in an interview. “Therefore, the activity cannot be classified as prospecting. This legislation defines that the Prospecting Permit, or PLG, can only be granted in places where gold occurs in secondary deposits.”

The error could have been just a mistake made by the municipal agency if it weren’t for one small detail: according to the state environmental legislation, City Hall does not have the autonomy to grant licenses for experimental mining, only for mining prospectors.

The operating license granted by City Hall to Gana Gold cites resolution No 116 of the State Environmental Council (COEMA), which specifies that municipalities can only grant the prospecting permit (PLG) or the “mineral research without experimental mining”. At the time when the license was granted, the valid COEMA resolution was No. 120, which presented the same mining rules as the resolution published the previous year. Article 1 of the resolution, which has validity as legislation, specifies another error committed: not consulting the federal environmental agency responsible for the management of Brazilian Conservation Units.

The resolution also states clearly federal and state agencies must be consulted for the licensing of activities or undertakings which will have local environmental impact inside State or Federal Conservation Units.” In February, the state council published new regulation on the types of licensing that city governments can grant, which maintains the same requirements.

When questioning the ANM about the irregular licensing of Gana Gold, I mentioned the environmental legislation that prohibits the municipality of Itaituba from granting licenses for experimental gold mining. Even so, without presenting any document or regulation to support his answer, ombudsman Paulo Santana wrote that “this technical body is aware that the municipality of Itaituba, PA has authorization for municipal environmental management, which was granted by the State Environmental Department (SEMES).” Santana also reinforced that “It is not up to the technical staff of the ANM to validate these documents.”

SEMAS, in turn, says such authorization does not exist. I questioned the state secretary on August 8 after receiving the email from the ANM’s ombudsman, and the response they sent me was that, beyond the federal legislation and the COEMA norms, “There is no instrument in force delegating competence between the State and the municipality of Itaituba for the classification ‘mineral research with experimental mining’.”

Clandestine runway

In a video released by the company, a helicopter and an airplane are seen landing at the mine — yet another signal that it is a large operation.

Neither the heliport nor the runway is registered with Brazil’s National Aviation Agency (ANAC). They are clandestine. In July, ANAC’s press office said the case was being checked by the agency’s “intelligence sector” and indicated possible punishment for those responsible.

But Gana Gold doesn’t need to concern itself with this for now, because in early June, the agency published a temporary ruling allowing take-offs and landings in unregistered places within the Brazilian Amazon. The justification given by the government was “to facilitate the transport of medicines, supplies and patients to communities in these regions” during the pandemic.

The area where the 106-hectare airstrip was built was illegally deforested in 2018, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Pará, which cites Nill Vitor da Silva, the registered owner of the land in the CAR (Rural Environmental Registry) system. Registers in the CAR are self-declared, and Silva’s is listed as still “pending”.

Silva’s name does not appear anywhere as a Gana Gold partner. This could be the reason why the complaint filed by the Prosecutor’s Office, made by the Amazônia Protege program — which uses data from INPE and IBAMA to hold deforesters accountable — does not mention that the deforested site serves as a clandestine landing strip for the mining company.

Public documents also indicate that the land operated by Gana Gold may be irregular. Through the Mapbiomas platform — a project run by environmental NGOs and universities — one can see that, aside from Nill Vitor da Silva, the area occupied by the mine comprises an area of 405 hectares also registered in the CAR registry system, also listed as “pending.” It is registered under the name Sebastião Luiz da Silva, who also has no apparent connection to the Gana Gold group.

The name Márcio Macedo Sobrinho also comes up in the CAR registry as owner of the precise 402 hectares where the mine is located, next to the land that would belong to Nill Vitor and Sebastião da Silva. Sobrinho’s registration, made in July 2019, comes up as “suspended” in the CAR system in Pará.

Attempts to contact Gana Gold partners Márcio Macedo Sobrinho and Domingos Dadalto Zoboli were unsuccessful and there was no answer at the numbers registered in the ANM mining process. Emails to the company were returned as having an invalid address. The same questions were sent via email to engineer Guilherme Aggens, who said by WhatsApp that he would look at the content, but he did not respond to questions about why the company is extracting 32 times the limit established by the ANM, why ownership of the land is registered in the CAR system under three different names, or even as to Aggens’ relationship with Itaituba’s Secretary of the Environment, Bruno Rolim da Silva.

In a response via Brazil’s Information Access Law, ICMBio informed me that the agency only found out about Gana Gold’s activities “by means of an institutional video being passed among WhatsApp groups in the region,” and that it began to investigate the case at the time, in April of this year.

Finally, after the Portuguese version of this article was published in The Intercept Brasil on September 16 exposing Gana Gold’s activities, ICMBio decided to take a harder stance regarding the company. On September 23, agents of the federal environmental agency seized the operation and fined Gana Gold R$ 10 million ($ 2 million) for “building, installing and operating a polluting establishment without environmental licensing,” based on article 66 of decree 6514/ 2008. The embargo affects the entire 4,000-hectare area of the Gana Gold mining process within the Tapajós Environmentally Protected Area.


Hyury Potter at Mongabay, translated by Maya Johnson

This article was originally published in Portuguese in The Intercept Brasil and is part of the Pistas do Desmatamento project, which investigates the environmental impacts related to clandestine airstrips in the Amazon, a partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.

In World First, Top Beef Supplier Approves Methane-Busting Feed Additive That Reduces Gas by 55%

In World First, Top Beef Supplier Approves Methane-Busting Feed Additive That Reduces Gas by 55%

A surprisingly high amount of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock: specifically, from the methane in the burps and other gases, they release as part of their digestive process.

It can add up to nearly three gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, a significant amount that puts it on a scale with heavy manufacturing industries and other more obvious polluters.

In light of this, some have advocated that we change our eating habits to consume less meat and dairy. Another way to approach the problem is to change what the cows and other livestock are eating. Bovaer is a food additive that safely and immediately suppresses digestive methane production in cows, reducing emissions by up to 30%.

Given that a single cow can produce three tons of carbon dioxide each year, the widespread use of Bovaer could have an enormous impact on livestock-based methane emissions.

Regulators in Brazil and Chile have granted full market authorization for Royal DSM’s Bovaer to be given to cows as well as sheep and goats, the company said recently in a statement.

The methane-reducing additive obtained this first approval after a 10-year collaboration called Project Clean Cow, and its success in 48 scientific trials on farms in 13 countries across 4 continents—peer-reviewed studies (such as this one in 2020 at UC Davis) that were published in scientific journals

“A beef trial with Bovaer at Sao Paolo State University (UNESP) in Brazil conducted in 2016-2017, showed enteric methane emission reductions up to 55%, which highlights the potential for radically more sustainable cattle farming in Latin America to further lower their carbon footprint,” said Mauricio Adade, president DSM Latin America.

And the additive comes “without adverse effects on performance”, says São Paulo State University Professor Ricardo Reis.

”The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) stated that a rapid reduction of methane emissions could reduce the spread of global warming in the near term and have a positive effect on air quality,” said DSM’s Mark van Nieuwland. “We know the agricultural and livestock sectors recognize this opportunity for change and are eager to act.”

Just a quarter teaspoon of Bovaer per cow per day consistently reduces burped methane emission by approximately 30% for dairy cows and even higher percentages (up till 90%) for beef cows. After suppressing methane production in the stomach, it is broken down into compounds already naturally present in the cow’s stomach.


Good News Network


Brazil city district slipping into sea after river diverted

Brazil city district slipping into sea after river diverted

The Paraiba do Sul River, which originates in neighboring Sao Paulo state, brings sediment and sand to Atafona where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its flow was mostly diverted in the 1950s to provide water to the growing capital, which weakened Atafona’s natural barrier to the ocean.

Decades ago, Júlia María de Assis thought someday she would take over the hotel her father had begun building in Atafona, a seaside district in Brazil’s northern Rio de Janeiro state.

But the very attraction that drew the tourists to Atafona – the sea – became its foe. Advancing water put the hotel’s construction on hold until, 13 years ago, the ocean’s force finally tore it down. Almost 500 other buildings have succumbed, too.

“It was going to be 48 suites – a big hotel that never started operations,” said de Assis, 51, standing beside rubble that once composed her family’s dream. “Even though the hotel’s structure was strong, every time the waves hit the building they damaged it and, finally, it collapsed.”

As a result of human action, over the past half century the Atlantic Ocean has been relentlessly consuming Atafona, part of the Sao Joao da Barra municipality that is 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Rio de Janeiro’s capital and home to 36,000 people. Due to climate change, there is little hope for a solution. Instead, Atafona will slip into the sea.

Julia Maria de Assis, daughter of the owner of the Predio do Julinho hotel, that collapsed in 2008. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The Paraiba do Sul River, which originates in neighboring Sao Paulo state, brings sediment and sand to Atafona where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its flow was mostly diverted in the 1950s to provide water to the growing capital, which weakened Atafona’s natural barrier to the ocean, said Pedro de Araújo, materials technology professor at the Fluminense Federal Institute.

“Less land sediment and sand that stabilized the coast made it so the sea is eating away at the city,” said de Araújo, who is pursuing a doctorate analyzing river erosion and seeking to model what that will mean for its delta going forward. He estimates that the river has one-third of its original flow.

Deforestation of mangroves in recent decades also left Atafona more vulnerable, said de Araújo. The sea’s average position moves some five meters (16 feet) inland every year, according to the professor.

“Sometimes the water comes up to my knees. My biggest fear is that one day it will take my hut,” fisherwoman Vanesa Gomes Barreto, 35, said at the stall where she sells her catch. “There was a chapel here, a bakery. It was a very large city, of which only a piece remains. The sea swallowed everything, even my childhood.”

Specialists have evaluated possible solutions, such as construction of artificial barriers or depositing vast quantities of sand, but none appear effective enough to halt the ocean’s advance. Global sea level rise due to melting ice means destruction will continue, and at a faster rate, de Araújo said.

People often ask de Assis, who thought she would inherit a hotel, if her city’s reversal of fortunes saddens her. She says she is grateful she was born in Atafona, but that humans need to respect nature.

“I feel nostalgic for the house where I spent summers,” she said, and pointed to the sea. “It’s at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.”


Diarlei Rodrigues and Marcelo Silva De Sousa via Associated Press

On the Web This Week, 24 October

On the Web This Week, 24 October

On the web this week, Sri Lanka attempts to deal with its human-elephant relationship, scuba diving grandmothers discover an unexpected sea snake population, and a mysterious oil spill off the coast of Brazil.

Picture credit: Rachel Nuwer

“Sri Lanka has the highest level of human-elephant conflict in the world,” says Prithiviraj Fernando, chairman of the Centre for Conservation and Research in Tissamaharama. “Wherever there are people and elephants, there’s conflict.”

For more than 70 years, Sri Lanka has attempted to solve the problem by moving elephants to national parks. According to the government’s approach, the world’s second-largest land animal belongs in protected areas surrounded by electric fencing, while people belong everywhere else.

Picture credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

A group of snorkelling grandmothers who swim up to 3km five days a week have uncovered a large population of venomous sea snakes in a bay in Noumea where scientists once believed they were rare. Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University were studying a small harmless species known as the turtle‐headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons, but would occasionally encounter the 1.5 metre-long venomous greater sea snake, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.

Goiran and Shine believed the greater sea snake was an anomaly in the popular swimming bay as it had only been spotted about six times over 15 years. From 2013, they decided to take a closer look at the greater sea snake to better understand its importance to the bay’s ecosystem.

Picture credit: Antonello Veneri / AFP

It washed ashore in early September, thick globs of oil that appeared from out of nowhere and defied explanation. In the weeks since, the mysterious sludge — 600 tons, the largest spill in Brazil’s history — has tarred more than 1,600 kilometres of shoreline, polluted some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and killed all sorts of marine life.

But despite the time that has passed — and the damage done – the most important questions remain unanswered. Where is the oil coming from? And how can it be stopped?

Picture credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Coca-Cola was found for the second year in a row to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic trash conducted by the Break Free From Plastic global movement. The giant soda company was responsible for more plastic litter than the next top three polluters combined.

Reaffirming the importance of sustainable environmental practices, Stellenbosch Wine Routes this week signed the Porto Protocol, committing the leading wine route in South Africa to an accelerated contribution towards climate change mitigation.

Launched by former US President Barack Obama in 2018, the Porto Protocol is a global sustainable initiative signed by companies across numerous industries. These have pledged to play their part in employing and sharing sustainable environmental practices to combat climate change.

Picture credit: Farmer’s Weekly

Urban agriculture has a major role to play in providing healthy, affordable and accessible food to poor urban households in South Africa, according to Prof Juaneé Cilliers, chair of the Urban and Regional Planning Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University.

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Continuing from last week, is part two in a six-part documentary series on global cities and the development of urban networks as the emerging geography of connectivity in an age of globalization. In this part we look at the historical development of urban centers from ancient times through to the industrial revolution. Produced by: https://systemsinnovation.io

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