World

Brazil's mystery oil spill hits breeding grounds for humpback whales

by Sabrina Valle

Bloomberg

The mysterious oil spill that hit Brazil’s coastline two months ago has reached the archipelago of Abrolhos, a national marine park that’s home to the greatest biodiversity in the southern Atlantic Ocean — the waters where humpback whales migrate to breed.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva flew over the five islands that comprise Abrolhos park located off the southern coast of Bahia in the northeast of Brazil on Sunday to monitor the impact. Small fragments of oil were spotted in some locations, Brazil’s navy said on Saturday. The oil also threatens Abrolhos’ highly sensitive coral reefs.

The spill and its impact have put Brazil back in the spotlight for environmental disasters, just as the country is preparing for the world’s priciest oil auction on Wednesday. In August, fires in the Amazon rainforest sparked an international backlash against President Jair Bolsonaro, a social conservative who supports developing natural resources in the region. That came after more than 240 died after a dam owned by iron ore producer Vale SA collapsed in January.

Oil began washing up along Brazil’s beaches on Aug. 30, tainting popular tourist spots, killing sea turtles and scaring off fishermen. The spill has affected one third of Brazil’s coastline, or about 1,400 miles (2,250 km), with authorities collecting 4,000 tons of oil from the beaches.

The initial location of the spill hasn’t been identified, though Brazil’s Federal Police said the crude came from a Greek-flagged ship with an 80,000-ton capacity. The Greek company has denied the leaks, while state-owned Petrobras said its lab analysis showed the crude originated from three Venezuelan fields.

Authorities have struggled to clean up the spill with floating equipment as the oil is so heavy that it’s been moving underwater. Oil stains have been spotted by divers on the seabed.

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