Return of roseate spoonbill birds offers hope for Rio de Janeiro’s lagoons

By Andre Coelho

Rio de Janeiro, May 24 (EFE).- Large numbers of roseate spoonbills have now returned to this Brazilian city’s Jacarepagua lagoon system, a sign that a campaign to recover that delicate and threatened urban ecosystem is starting to bear fruit.

Biologist Mario Moscatelli, who has devoted three decades to the study and management of Rio’s coastal wetlands and marine basin, is hopeful about the renewed presence of these pink, flat-billed birds that had all but disappeared from those shallow bodies of water.

“The return of the roseate spoonbills is a tenuous sign that the environmental improvements we’re pushing are certain to spark an explosion of life in this lagoon system,” Moscatelli told Efe.

The 11.2-square-kilometer (4.32-square-mile) Jacarepagua lagoon complex bathes the western part of Rio de Janeiro, the area of the city where the principal 2016 Summer Olympics facilities were built and which is home to some caimans and capybaras.

Those mangrove-rich lagoons, which are fed by several rivers that flow down the mountains surrounding Rio, had long served as important breeding grounds for several species of fish, birds and reptiles.

But 50 years of unchecked growth in Brazil’s second-largest city led to those lagoons becoming heavily polluted with the sewage of millions of local residents.

The accumulation of garbage, organic waste and soil in the mangroves left native wildlife without food, while the species that survived – such as caimans and herons – had their habitat degraded by discarded waste, including bulky items such as tires and furniture.

The situation only began to improve in December 2021 when a local sanitation company obtained a concession to provide water and sewage service in the region and began an environmental recovery process with a budget of $50 million and with Moscatelli hired as chief consultant.

“Over the past year, we’ve enclosed and cleaned 5.2 km (3.2 miles) of mangroves, removed 170 tons of waste and planted a portion of the 70,000 red mangrove plants that we’d cultivated in a nursery,” the biologist said.

According to the expert, with the improvements made to the mangrove forest and water quality thanks to the dredging of the lagoons, along with substantial wastewater reduction, “what before was a deposit of dead fish is beginning to recover its biodiversity.”

Moscatelli expects the lagoon system will return to a stable level in five years and can become a important environmental and eco-tourism asset for Rio within 15 years.

The expert cautioned, however, that despite efforts to keep wastewater out of the lagoons “it’s impossible to find a river or canal in the region that isn’t a sewer.”

Antonio Melo, an activist who has lived for the past 30 years in that region nicknamed Rio’s Everglades (a reference to a region of tropical wetlands in the US state of Florida), told Efe he is hopeful that lagoon complex can become a “paradise” once again.

“It’s now been a 15-year struggle to revitalize the lagoons. Capybaras, caimans and dozens of bird species live here. It’s a paradise that for years has suffered from the (impact) of untreated wastewater,” he said. EFE


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