Test Design Lighthouse

Local Beach - Global Garbage

Every beachcomber at some time or another dreams of finding something special: a secret message from Pacific climes, a cry for help from a stranded Robinson Crusoe, the missing fragment of a long-lost treasure map – washed up as a message in a bottle!


Every beach once had the potential to yield up secrets, hidden away in bottles – the sea is a dependable messenger. But nowadays the tingling anticipation of finding any message in a washed-up container has given way to the certainty that it is just more garbage. Thoughtlessly thrown into the sea, from the shore or over the side of a ship, bottles etc. do not just disappear. At another time and place they will return to our beaches. In such vast numbers, in some places, that the idea of checking each one for a hidden message has utterly lost its appeal.


But while we may never find a faded S.O.S. scrawled with trembling hand by a distant shipwreck survivor, a closer look is still worthwhile. On a four-day hike along 86 km of the Linha Verde on the north coast of Brazil’s Bahia State, Fabiano Prado Barretto, a photographer from Salvador da Bahia, set about investigating the flotsam in depth, and cataloguing his finds.


During Carnival 2001, Fabiano Prado Barretto made several hikes along the Linha Verde on the North Bahia coast, the Costa dos Coqueiros. In four days he covered a total of 86 kilometres of beach on foot: from Praia do Forte to Porto Sauipe (27 km), from Porto Sauipe to SubaFAma (12 km), from SubaFAma to Baixio (22 km) and from Barra do Itariri to Sitio do Conde (25 km).

"I found out that it came from 26 different countries, with the USA (10), South Africa (9) and Germany (8) as the most represented countries on the beaches of Bahia. There was garbage from all over the world, as, for example, from Indonesia, Argentina, Canada, Spain, India, Finland, Thailand, South Korea (Cheju Island, an island in the Eastern Chinese Sea, between the Korean Strait and the Yellow Sea) and Cyprus. Of the 94 pieces collected, I identified the origin of 84 of them. The others I did not identify either because the label was unreadable, because they did not have a bar code, or because I did not understand the language.", Baretto says.


The types of product found in largest numbers were mineral water (21) and milk (13). There were also insecticides, juices, cleaning and cosmetic products, writing material, soft drinks and different types of food. The types of wrapping that occurred most were plastic (46) and spray in can (21), as well as a lot of tetra paks (17). Also 1647 signalizes were found, whose origin could not be identified because they had nothing written on them. Besides, 43 light bulbs, incandescent and fluorescent, which, because of their type, must be of foreign origin, as well as 54 glass bottles from alcoholic beverages.


This garbage must have been thrown into the ocean by foreign vessels - which could include sailing boats, freighters, tourist cruisers - and that it had been washed ashore by sea currents. Because of the diversity of products, no indication of Brazilian importers on the labels of the products and the location of where the garbage was collected, it was proven that the garbage had not been left directly on the beach by foreign tourists. It is not possible that tourists arrive in Brazil bringing light bulbs, milk, insecticides, and others of the products found on the beach.


Rusty barrels: what might be inside them?

No one knows precisely how the 'global garbage' got to this small piece of beach. To the meteorologist Ricardo Camargo, specialist in currents and winds on the Brazilian coast, it is a mystery because there are vessels with the bad habit of dumping garbage into the sea, but they put it into plastic sacks that are not supposed to rip and arrive at the coast. Says the researcher from the University of São Paulo: "One explanation could be the winds from the east that are very common in this area." The so-called Giro Tropical, a conjunction of currents, could be washing ashore the objects thrown into the waters by any vessel cruising the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Brazil. This explains why the garbage arrived on this side of the Atlantic, but not why it chose the beaches of Bahia.


Any kind of dumping of garbage into the ocean is strictly forbidden, but controlling the vessels, which is the task of the Administration of the Ports of Salvador and the National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance (Anvisa), is very complicated. According to Manuel Argolo da Cruz, head of the department of security of waterways of the Administration of the Ports of Salvador, around 35 % of the vessels are covered by controls, who check the vessel's state, the destination of its garbage and things like that. Says he: "The majority of the vessels does not dump garbage into the ocean, but a lot of them are likely to have done so in the past." But he also admits that he does not know of any case where a fine had been applied: "It is difficult to prove."


According to the Navy, the dumping of garbage within 200 miles off the coast, which are part of Brazilian territorial waters, is considered a crime that can be fined with up to 25 million US-Dollars. Says the captain and interim commander of the Administration of the Ports of Salvador, Sérgio Silveira: "In spite of this relatively big fine, it is almost impossible to catch someone red-handed." The Navy has only got nine vessels and 50 men in order to control the 950 kilometers of coast in Bahia. Says Viviane Silva, environmentalist at Greenpeace: "The dumping of garbage into the ocean is a common crime in Brazil."



The garbage also represents a danger to the local fauna. Says biologist Gustavo Lopez, technical coordinator for Bahia of the project Tamar for the reproduction of sea turtles: "Plastic and glass are especially dangerous to sea mammals and turtles." Lopez recalls a video tape which shows a turtle with difficulties to spawn because its cloacae is obstructed by a plastic bag, "which the animals swallow regularly because they mistake them for algae."


According to the data collected by MAMA (Mamíferos Marinhos- Sea Mammals), only in the year of 2000, four dolphins appeared dead on the beaches of Salvador, victims of ingestion of plastic bags. The animals, whose sight is not very clear, often mistake this type of garbage for their preferred food, which is octopus. In the most serious case, registered on the beach of Canta Galo (Center of Salvador) in 1998, an adult dolphin was found dead without any signs of injuries. During the autopsy, veterinarians found in its stomach a pack of parboiled rice from Uncle Bens, USA. Also in 2000, another animal became victim of the pollution, this time a small whale of the Jubarte species. The mammal, which was about one year old, had swallowed three bottle tops which were stuck in its throat and, therefore, made it impossible for the milk to pass. Says Luciano Wagner, coordinator of the project: "The animal died of inanition." This time, the garbage was of Brazilian origin.


Fabiano Prado Barretto has made it his mission to make these facts public beyond the borders of Brazil. “I called my project ‘Local Beach – Global Garbage’. And being a photographer, my chosen method was to exhibit my photographs and have them published in the press.” Besides Brazil, these have since been on view in the USA, Portugal and Germany.


With support from the Lighthouse Foundation, Fabiano Prado Barretto is pressing ahead with the project, together with his wife Eva Baretto. While strengthening local activities in Bahia, the project ‘Local Beach - Global Garbage’ will present an exhibition at the World Social Forum (WSF) in India in January 2004.


By the way: the Brazilian photographer from Salvador da Bahia, Fabiano Prado Barretto himself, did in fact have the rare good luck of finding a very promising bottle. The message he discovered in a mineral water bottle on the beach was from an Italian sailor named Vito Maria D'Abundo, who consigned it to the waters of the South Atlantic on 26 September 2001 at 16° 45'South and 05° 40' West near the island of St. Helena, some 3,200 km and at least 135 days from the place it was later found.



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Bahia's capital is the city of Salvador, or more properly, São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, and is located at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of All Saints.