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The Great Barrier Reef on the north-east coast of Australia which contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, has been the only reef which has been in the news of late  and has a UNESCO heritage label. Today with oceans heating up reefs are threatened and the world holds its breath, hoping to reverse the trend.

Interestingly, a newly discovered reef, the Amazon Reef, spread over 9500 km, at the mouth of the Amazon River is receiving focussed attention from the IUCN and marine scientists. It is important because it is like no other coral reef that we know of. While other reefs exist in clear, sunlit waters, the Amazon Reef lies in very muddy, sediment-filled waters of the Amazon, and is a product of unusual chemosynthesis. The reef lies in a uniquely bio- diverse area, and as scientists explore this area further, new exciting species of life are likely to be discovered.

The reef, which also serves as a natural carbon sink, is surrounded by the largest mangrove stretch in the world, which again is another massive natural carbon sink. Any threat to the reef will directly affect the earth’s ability to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration)

Now, oil companies have plans to drill around 15 to 20 billion barrels of oil from the surrounding area, which, once up for consumption, will further adversely affect efforts to mitigate climate change and destroy this pristine habitat.

This is where Greenpeace India has stepped in with the goal of stopping oil exploration near the mouth of the Amazon river and guarantee that the ecosystem of the region, and its vital mangrove carbon sinks, will remain intact and protected.

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Ravi Chellam, Executive Director, Greenpeace India, ” I strongly believe that our interactions with Nature, our environment and fellow human beings have to be based on a robust ethical foundation.  We, both as individual human beings and collectively as the human race have no right to damage and destroy any part of nature, especially if our actions will result in extinction of species as extinction is forever!  The case of the newly discovered Amazon reef is particularly compelling for us to take global and collective responsibility for it.  This reef is quite expansive in its scale, occupying at least 9,500 sq km and very unique in its location, at the mouth of the Amazon River and in muddy waters.  Currently we have barely documented 5% of these reefs and it would be unpardonable if we allow any damage to these reefs in the name of “development”.  I find it particularly distressing that the proposed development is for oil drilling when the dangers posed by global warming and climate change are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives.  If the global community has to deliver on the pledges made as part of the Paris Agreement, any future exploration for hydrocarbons, especially in biodiversity rich sites like the Amazon Reefs should be prevented.”

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The Amazon Reef is an ecosystem composed of corals, sponges and rhodoliths (calciferous algae). In the southern part of the Reef, there are mainly sponges, some of them are over 2 meters in length.In the 70’s, scientists speculated about the existence of a reef in the region, but no further research was done. Then from 2010 to 2014, scientists went on three expeditions to collect samples and study their findings. This system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths was revealed in April of 2016. Because of its characteristics and extreme conditions , this system of corals is unique. Its discovery was celebrated by specialists as one of the most important in marine biology in recent decades. According to Ronaldo Francini, one of the scientists who revealed the Reef to the world, “this is clearly a hotspot for biodiversity”.

The campaign will hasten the end of the oil age and maintaining global temperatures within 1.5C degrees and contribute to the erosion of political and economic power currently held by fossil fuel corporations globally by weakening their relationships with governments, customers and investors and undermining their social license.

The common man is being made more aware of these issues through online campaigns and what is known as ‘clicktivism’. The Amazon Reef Campaign has crossed 1 million signups globally. The fight to protect our natural treasures, functional ecosystems and a better world is gathering momentum in one more corner of the globe. Greenpeace India is very much part of this global campaign, we have received 3000 sign ups and counting within just four days of the launch of the campaign. Greenpeace India launched the Amazon Reef Campaign on 13th April and is running successfully. Several big names including, Leonard di Caprio,  supports the Amazon reef campaign.

The reef is a new biome, located in a place where it was thought not possible for reefs to exist – they are located in the mouth of the Amazon basin, where there is a lot of sediments brought by the river (largest in the world in volume of water), there are spots where only 2% of light passes through. So it is a new biome that needs to be studied as is very important for marine biodiversity and fish stocks.

At the same time, this area is risky to drill for oil – from 95 attempts to produce oil in the mouth of the Amazon basin since the 1960s, 27 failed due to mechanical accidents, while the other attempts either didn’t find anything, or the reserves weren’t technically or economically viable.

So it is a new frontier of oil and we can’t access new reserves, where already have more oil reserves guaranteed in the world than we can burn if we want to keep climate warming to 1.5C.


Regarding the mangroves, they are not linked to the reef. Both mangroves and reefs play a very important role in biodiversity and carbon capture. The largest continuous mangrove in the world is in the coast of Amapá and if oil got to it, we know there is no technology for cleaning it up. And the mangroves play an important role in both marine and land biodiversity in the coast, extremely important for artisanal fishing communities and extractivist communities – the coast of Amapá is home to several traditional communities, fishing, extractivist, indigenous and quilombola (former slaves from the 18th and 19th centuries that ran away,” says Thiago F. C. Almeida a Brazilian Climate & Energy Campaigner.

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Regarding the mangroves, they are not linked to the reef, but both mangroves and reefs play a very important role in biodiversity and carbon capture. The largest continuous mangrove in the world is on the coast of Amapá and if oil destroyed it, there is no technology to clean it up. And the mangroves play an important role in both marine and land biodiversity in the coast, extremely important for artisanal fishing communities – the coast of Amapá is home to several traditional communities, fishing, extractivist, indigenous and quilombola (former slaves from the 18th and 19th centuries that ran away).

Plus, coral systems are very susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Between the atmosphere and the ocean, there is an exchange of gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), which is absorbed, and oxygen, which is released by the action of the algae. As we are emitting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans are having to absorb much of this gas in a short period of time, which throws the system out of balance. One of the effects of this excess CO2 is that the ocean is becoming more acidic. And acidity harms mollusks and corals, which are unable to form with the same amount of carbonates.  As an analogy, it is as if the ocean has osteoporosis. A study published in Nature Climate Change shows that in corals reefs, the diversity and complexity of marine life falls as the acidity of the water rises. Species that use calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons, like mussels and corals, are particularly vulnerable to acidification. In addition, the areas surrounding mangroves and corals are inhabited by species of turtles, marine mammals, etc., that, we know today, play an important role in the sequestration of carbon in the ocean.

Oil exploration involves seismic surveys. The waves stun marine animals and diving birds, interfering with their navigation and communication abilities.  This can be deadly for individuals and species.  The drilling process also involves large volumes of waste being produced.  This includes extracted water mixed with oil and other contaminants, drilling “muds” (including toxic chemicals and heavy metals) to cool and lubricate the equipment and other forms of industrial waste. These inevitably end up in the ocean and are ingested by marine life of all sizes.  Some of the tiniest marine creatures, foundational to our ecosystems, the plankton, are particularly susceptible to crude oil pollution and suffer population reductions.

Oil companies are estimated to drill around 15 to 20 billion barrels of oil from the surrounding area, which, once up for consumption, will contribute immensely to global warming and adversely affect efforts to mitigate climate change. So we need to support the campaign, save the reef  and stop the drilling.

Marianne Furtado de Nazareth is the former Assistant Editor, The Deccan Herald, adjunct faculty, St. Joseph’s PG College of Media Studies & a PhD scholar at the Madurai Kamaraj University

 

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Greenpeace India taking a lead in saving the barrier reef of Amazon is a welcome step. The environmental concerns are not confined to one nation or continent alone but every one concerned over the world should unitedly struggle against corporate oil companies which are destroying the environment .