Advance of the sea leaves salty açaí and rivers without water at the mouth of the Amazon

Located at the mouth of the Amazon, the Bailique archipelago (Amapá) has its main source of income in the imposing native açaí groves. But the rise in the level of the Atlantic Ocean over the world’s largest river is salting the purple fruit and threatens the permanence of the fence 14 a thousand residents.

The onslaught of the sea on the river has always taken place in the region, where it gained the local name of ebbing tide. The problem is that it has been happening with increasing force and for longer. This year, for the first time, all 58 communities, spread over eight islands, were affected, leading the city of Macapá to declare an emergency situation.

“There has always been this, but it did not enter the archipelago, it was only in the coastal communities. Last year, it took a third of the Bailique. This year, it took the entire archipelago”, says the president of the Amazonbai açaí producer cooperative , Amiraldo de Lima Picanço, 35.

According to residents, the Amazon started to get salty in August. In October 14, the mayor of Macapá, Dr. Furlan (Citizenship), decreed an emergency situation in the district to speed up water distribution and food baskets, taken by boat from the city, about 180 km, a trip of 12h.

The impact is also advancing on the açaí trees. According to Picanço, who is a forestry engineer, fruits harvested closer to the coast have been salted for over ten years, and the phenomenon is intensifying. One of the 100 Amazonbai producers has already registered the problem in part of their açaí.

“The sea water is invading, and the açaí will undergo changes . We know that açaí consumes a lot of water. There are places, towards the north, where açaí is totally salty”, says cooperative producer Pedro Barbosa, 35 .

The threat comes at a time when Amazonbai is going through a phase of consolidation and expansion. After years of predatory exploitation of the açaí palm, the producers organized themselves and started to extract the fruit using minimal impact management. The forest is still standing, and the main intervention is cleaning the area through pruning.

The cooperative was the first organization in the country to have FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. acronym in English) of ecosystem services for the conservation of forest carbon stocks and species diversity.

In all, there are 2.972 hectares of açaí plantations certified by the entity international, including the chain of custody seal.

In another achievement of the cooperative members, Amazonbai opened, in in December, an agro-industry in Macapá to benefit part of the production and which also serves as a warehouse, removing the bargaining power of middlemen.

Despite good practices and good economic times of açaí, the residents suffer from the precarious structure. Homes rely on power from gasoline-powered generators, the price of which is increasingly prohibitive. There is no proper sewage system. The closest hospital is in Macapá.

Regarding the water crisis, riverside dwellers complain that, in all these months, each family received only one shipment of 15 mineral water packs, which add up 100 liters. They also claim that the water brought in tanks from boats and distributed by the state government, led by Waldez Góes (PDT) is ferrous and of poor quality.

Bathing is usually with brackish water, the that leaves the body sticky and smells similar to that of marine fish. To mitigate the shortage, many collect rainwater or go by canoe to uncontaminated streams.

Doctor at the local health post, Cuban Pedro Sarduy says that the consumption of unsafe water has caused vomiting , diarrhea and skin problems. He says that many residents cannot afford to buy gallons of water, which contain 15 liters and cost around R$ 25.

“I recommend boiling water, but people don’t do it because gas is expensive”, he says.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), each person needs to use 35 to 58 liters of water per day.

The Undersecretary of Management and Planning for Mobilization and Popular Participation, Emanuel Bentes, said that the calculation of mineral water was only for hydration. Regarding the water sent by the state government, he acknowledged that it has a ferrous taste, but assured that it is suitable for human consumption.

Bentes says that the construction and maintenance of pipelines in the region is hampered by the known phenomenon as fallen land, quite common in large Amazon rivers, in which ravines collapse under the influence of the current.

To make matters worse, a technical study commissioned by the city concluded that desalination is impracticable in Bailique, due to the high turbidity of the muddy Amazon River. According to Bentes, the solution will be to improve the capture of rainwater in the communities.

Dark future

Oceanologist Wilson Cabral, from ITA (Technological Institute of Aeronautics) assesses that the mouth of the Amazon is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the country, as it is in the area of ​​influence of both the ocean and the continent. In addition, they are lowlands.

“The reach of the saline intrusion at the mouth of the Amazon River increases as the sea level rises. This will generate effects over kilometers and kilometers inland” , says Cabral, who is taking part in a study on the impact of climate change on the neighboring island of Marajó.

These effects are not restricted to the surface and include the penetration of saline water into the water table.the oceanologist, another negative impact on the region is the hydroelectric dams in the amazonian rivers, which block the arrival of sediments. “This solid discharge is responsible for forming land at the mouth. If there is a reduction in this input of sediments, coastal erosion increases.”

“We are looking for solutions not to leave our territory”, says Picanço.

For the leadership, certification for ecosystem services demonstrates that the cooperative members are in line with the guidelines provided by the COP26, the UN climate conference. “We can be a model for other regions. Let’s help Rio de Janeiro, Miami. We are playing our role.”

Reporters Fabiano Maisonnave and Adriano Vizoni traveled to Bailique at the invitation of Imaflora (Institute of Forest and Agricultural Management and Certification.

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