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Home to one of the richest biodiversity on the planet, the Cocoa Coast is under serious threat. The government of Bahia, seduced by Chinese investments, is about to destroy hundreds of hectares of Atlantic Rainforest, and deplete more than 30 km of littoral, to build an enormous port complex in Ilhéus: Porto Sul.

This port was imposed on us so that Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) can export iron ore from Caetité, Bahia highlands, all the way to China, through its subsidiary Bahia Mineração (BAMIN). The environmental license for the implementation was obtained by means of corruption, according to the battle  between ERG and Zamin Ferrous, the first BAMIN shareholder, at the High Court of London, in 2015.

The BAMIN tailings dam would be constructed above the district of Guanambi, putting at risk 86’000 inhabitants. In January the tailings dam of Brumadinho broke up, killed about 350 people and destroyed everything on its way. Its highly toxic content ended up in the Paraopeba river, considered dead today. BAMIN tailings dam would be 15 times bigger than the one of Brumadinho!

On the coast we live mainly from tourism, artisanal fishing, cocoa production and family farming. We are increasingly adopting a sustainable lifestyle: recycling, agroforestry and environmental education at school. While our pristine beaches attract ecotourists from all over the world, our vision of development maintains the region’s rich cultural identity, marked by slaves and indigenous traditions. 

Porto Sul would have an irreversible impact on the fauna and flora of the entire coast, including humpback whales and turtles that breed here every year, as well as countless other endangered species. On top of chemical pollution risks, underwater sound pollution dangerously compromises marine biodiversity. The fish population could rapidly decrease, as their ability to feed, reproduce and avoid predators is diminished. 

The fishermen depend on a healthy marine ecosystem for their living. Tourism depends on a clean ocean, luxuriant forests and preserved culture. What would be Bahia without its traditional « moqueca » fish stew? Moreover, this project would damage an Environmental Protection Area - Lagoa Encantada - and thousands of springs, on which depend neighboring towns and cities, as well as local agriculture, for cocoa and food production.

The railway that would connect Porto Sul to the iron ore is abandoned with grotesque project mistakes, has already cost 3 billions reais and caused major socio-environmental damages. Built during Brazil’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), at the end it could be part of the new Silk Road! Moreover the very strict "Blue Sky Policy" could incentive Chinese companies to transfer polluting activities in Brazil, in order to cut carbon emissions on their ground.

The long term consequences are likely to be catastrophic. The port could motivate potentially harmful industries to establish in the region, also abundant in oil palms. Air, soil and fresh water would be forever polluted. Deprived from their means of subsistence, rural communities migrate to cities outskirts, increasing unemployment, slums population, drugs, violence, depression, diseases, health and security costs. 

Ilhéus was once the cradle of Jorge Amado's literature, who told the world the saga of cocoa in the middle of the forests, in books like Gabriela and Terras do Sem Fim. Last year Bahia’s rural cocoa producers turnover increased of 220%, thanks to the growing tree-to-bar chocolate trend. The Cocoa Coast could be an example of sustainable economy, flourishing on its emblematic fruit, from cocoa agroforestry to organic chocolate cooperatives and ecotourism!

According to local newspapers, they pretend to start the construction in the second semester of 2019! Let’s urge the governor of Bahia, the ministers of environment, tourism, agriculture and infrastructure, and in particular Brazil’s Public Prosecutor to cancel the Porto Sul project!


Photo: Renata Guioto