In 2016, scientists made an astonishing discovery of a coral reef in the most unlikely of places: the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. Now it looks like drilling for oil in this area may take place before scientists even get the chance to study it.
Corals usually live in saltwater, and light – often blocked out by muddy waters in flowing rivers – is imperative for them to grow. The mouth of the Amazon river, where saltwater meets freshwater, is a tumultuous environment that nobody expected shallow, saltwater-loving corals to thrive in, but there it was.
However, the Brazilian government had already sold off exploration areas in the Foz de Amazonas (mouth of Amazon), thought to be so rich in oil it could hold up to 15.6 billion barrels of the stuff, to prominent oil companies back in 2013.
Post-discovery, this still appears to be going ahead.
“It’s unlike any other reef that we know about,” Sara Ayech, an oil campaigner at Greenpeace told the Guardian. “If the companies drill there’s a risk of an oil spill and if an oil spill hits the reef, then we could see parts of it destroyed before we even document them.”
The oil companies involved – Total, BP, and Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras – have plans to start the exploration process as soon as August or September of this year. To do this, however, they have to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that needs to be signed off by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).
So far, IBAMA has rejected their EIA, and the Federal Prosecutor for the State of Amapá, where the reef is located, has recommended the suspension of both the oil exploration and environmental licensing process, according to a Greenpeace report.