Jose Augusto Saraiva Peixoto is organizing Brazil's first concerted longterm effort by many municipalities and private organizations to reverse the destruction of a major shared ecosystem, the country's largest bay, historic All Saints' Bay.
The New Idea
Since 1981, when Saraiva and eight other architecture students founded GERMAN -- the Grupo de Recomposição Amiental, or the Environmental Recuperation Group -- the organization has viewed community involvement as key to accomplishing its environmental goals. Through community-based programs, they have created an ecological park in the dune and lake district of Abaete, preserved several historic neighborhoods in Salvador, worked to demarcate Indian lands, and were involved in drafting new environmental legislation for the state.Now Saraiva is using the same approach for one of GERMAN's most ambitious tasks yet: the restoration of the Baia de Todos os Santos. For it to be a success, it must bring together municipal governments, environmental organizations, businesses, industries, technical experts, and the people of Bahia. This means working with the city of Salvador, with its two million inhabitants, and the thirteen other municipalities around the bay, which add another million residents to the task. The key motivating factor to unite them in this cause will be the 500th year anniversary of the Baia de Todos os Santos in the year 2001.The bay was discovered by explorer Americo Vespucci, who sailed these waters in 1501. The goal of the project will be to bring together communities to clean up this historic bay in time for the anniversary celebration. Saraiva says that even if the environmental conditions of the bay are not completely restored by then, at least they will have developed and begun to implement the necessary model for recuperation of this ecological monument.It is the complexity of the program, working together with the residents whose lives are connected to the bay, that make this project original. Saraiva has designed several projects designed to guarantee the involvement of each municipality and the integration of communities and organizations.
The Baia de Todos os Santos is the largest bay in Brazil and the second largest in the world, with 200 kilometers of coastline and covering an area of 1,100 square kilometers. It is an important historical area, being the site of the first Brazilian capital. The bay served as a major port, and it was here where the slave trade began.Unfortunately, the history of the bay has also been a story of environmental degradation. Once surrounded by rich, fertile farm land, the area around the bay has today become an important industrial complex spurred by the petrochemical industry. The Baia de Todos os Santos has become an illegal dumping ground for these local industries. Factories often discharge wastes in the bay, which is taking a bitter toll on the fish, the vegetation, and the environment as a whole.The bay is also being harmed by a combination of other factors, such as the unlawful practice of bomb fishing, which is common in the area and is destroying vegetation necessary to support life in the bay. Mangroves, a typical vegetation in these waters that serve as a natural nursery for sea life, are also being destroyed. Though other groups have been concerned with the slow destruction of the bay, their work has been solitary with little to no impact.
Creating a consortium of municipalities, Saraiva plans to take these problems with an eye for the whole. First, he proposes creating Bay Guards in each town, a type of Coast Guard to patrol the bay and enforce antipollution efforts. The Bay Guards would not only help prevent bomb fishing and illegal dumping of waste, but also monitor oil carriers and other potentially hazardous cargo being transported in the area.The program will also include an extensive study of the bay that Saraiva calls "An Environmental Diagnosis of the Baia de Todos os Santos," done with technical support from the University of Bahia. It will be carried out over the course of the 1990s to determine what waste is being thrown into the bay and to work to clean it up. It will require working with the neighboring industries to try to get them to switch to alternative nonpolluting technologies and to treat their waste before it is dumped into the bay.Sariava plans to create an inter-city consortium that will encourage all the small communities around the bay to join together in the cleanup effort. He will also encourage various citizen organizations, which now pursue their own distinct environmental pet projects, to unite in this consortium for the cause of the bay.The groups will work together to create an "ecological station" on the Ilhe do Medo, an island nature reserve. Here universities will do research on plant and animal preservation. The island will also serve as a point for ecological tours. Around the bay, communities will work to preserve dunes, mangroves, isthmuses, and St. Bartholomeu Park, the last Atlantic rain forest reserve in Bahia. Other initiatives will include campaigns to stop bomb fishing and a coveiro campaign, encouraging residents to use traditional nonpolluting wooden rafts as their mode of water transportation rather than motorized boats.Some financing for the programs will come from a store that sells various types of "Save the Bay" paraphernalia like T-shirts and agendas. GERMAN also plans to help start a whale museum, recalling the days when the bay used to be a whale breeding ground. The program is all done looking forward to the 500th anniversary of the bay, and making sure that there are another 500 years to come.
Saraiva became interested in working with the environmental movement while an architecture student at the Federal University of Bahia. Concerned with the deterioration and loss of green areas in and around his city of Salvador, Saraiva and other students took a hard look at their own university and particularly the School of Architecture.By redesigning and landscaping the area, they turned an urban and desolate setting into one that eleven years later was filled with fruit trees and greenery. It was the beginning of Saraiva's fight for the environment, one that continues to this day.