Environmental Consequences of the Suape Port Complex

New Wave Media

October 21, 2013

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Considered by some to be the best Port in Brazil, the Suape Port and Industrial Complex has become infamous with environmentalists due to the fact that researchers has singled it out as the primary cause of shark attacks along the beaches fronting the city of Recife, due to the destruction of mangroves and reef for the construction of the port. Situated between the cities of Ipojuca and Cabo de Santo Agostinho, in the state of Pernambuco in the Brazilian Northeast, it has an area of 140 square kilometers and 13.5 thousand hectares in extension divided into Port, Industrial, Administrative, Ecological Preservation and Cultural Preservation zones. Its conception and location as an industrial port was considered exceptional for the installation of various enterprises, which use the port infrastructure, roadways and railways with direct access to the cargo terminals and the tank storage area. However, it is becoming clear that the environmental consequences of building a large port complex in the area were not well understood and it is also a fact that back in the 70's when construction began, environmental consequences were most probably not a major concern to the developers and government.

The Suape Complex has been in operation for more than 30 years and around 100 companies operate within the complex, with another 35 companies being implanted. Private investments add up to around US$ 18 billion. There are about 30 thousand people working in the port facilities and in the industrial complex, which includes a major shipyard, EAS (Estaleiro Atlantico Sul) and the smaller STX Promar shipyard.

The Port Complex was recently denounced for using explosives to remove coral reefs in order to increase the depth of the channel used for ship passage, causing not only further destruction of coral reefs but also killing a wide variety of fish species, including some in the endangered species list, including gray dolphins and a rare large fish called Mero in Brazil and known internationally as Atlantic Goliath Grouper or Itajara (Epinephelus itajara).

A technical report by Pernambuco’s State Environmental Agency, which included 5 months of investigation, has led to a US$1.25 million fine. The Attorney General of Pernambuco is also petitioning a resolution, which may force the Suape Complex to invest US$125 million in order to help recover the marine environment where the Complex was built. Reports state that the areas has become an underwater desert and that this has been scientifically proven to be the cause of increased shark attacks along Boa Viagem beach, which is the main city beach in the city of Recife, capital of the State of Pernambuco. Before the Port Complex was built, the area was a great estuary with 4 rivers and large mangrove areas and a large coral reef structure, which were shark feeding areas. The 4 rivers were also silted to such an extent that their courses were eventually changed. Scientists explain that with the destruction of the marine fauna in the ecosystem, only a few predators such as sharks remained and these not finding food at Suape, migrated by a natural underwater channel to the long inshore reef complex right off Boa Viagem beach, where at least 60 shark attacks occurred since 1992.

There is no doubt that the Suape Industrial Complex is important for the development and the economy of the State of Pernambuco and even for Brazil in general, but now that the depth needed for larger ships has been reached it is expected that the underwater explosions will stop. It is also hoped that the Suape Port Complex will increase investments in order to remediate the damage done to the underwater environment around the port and to the rivers adjoining it.

Below: Rare picture of Suape before the Port Complex was built

Below: Another old picture of Suape

Below: Local fishermen in Suape region

Below: Sharks forced to find food in front of Boa Viagem by following the natural channel

Below: Early construction of Suape Port Complex

Below: Shark sighted offshore Boa Viagem beach

Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.
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