One man's campaign to clean up a beach in Rio


São Conrado beach, which is located about 20 kilometres southwest of Rio de Janeiro, offers an incomparable view of the Pedra da Gávea, the highest mountain in the city. But if you look a bit closer at this picture postcard scene, you’ll see a much dirtier reality. Sewage flows into the water near the beach, which is cut off from public services. Needless to say, there are no tourists. However, our Observer is there, on a one-man campaign to save the beach.

Every single day, Marcelo Farias, 40, takes photos and videos to document the level of pollution in the beach. The barman then posts the images on the Facebook page "Salvemos São Conrado" ["Let’s save São Conrado"].

Some of the photos that he has taken are shocking. The beach is littered with the corpses of cats and dogs and piles of rubbish. Discarded syringes lie on the sand. In 2015, for the second year running, the organisers of the international surf competition, the Oi Rio Pro, decided not to include São Conrado beach because of how dirty it is.

A syringe on the beach. Photo: Marcelo Farias, Salvemos São Conrado.

Marcelo lives in the Rocinha favela, which is just a few metres from the beach. He launched his Facebook page in 2012 as a way to mobilize a community of volunteers who get together to collect rubbish. They also visit schools to teach children about environmental issues and conservation.

"The rubbish thrown into the gutters ends up directly on the beach”

The favela of Rocinha is located in the hills of São Conrado. Its sewers empty out directly into the ocean, constantly polluting the beach and the water.

This problem is worsened by the fact that Rocinha has no rubbish collection system, a recurrent problem in low-income neighborhoods. Because of this, residents throw all their rubbish into the gutters. When it rains, piles of waste are washed along the gutters and into the sea. Then waves pick up the rubbish and carry it back on to the beach.

This isn’t a tourist beach. It’s used by locals who live in the favela, as well as by a few local surfers. People from the posh neighbourhoods in São Conrado don’t go to this beach, either. This means that very few people actually care about the pollution problem.

"I hope that the influx of tourists in this neighbourhood will push the authorities to act"

I’ve been trying to alert authorities to this situation for several years now. I think that the most important step is to set up a rubbish collection system in the Rocinha favela. But we aren’t planning on waiting around with our arms crossed while we wait for public services to take notice of this pollution problem. Every month, I work with several other volunteers to organise a rubbish collection on the beach. We invite people from the community to participate.

Rubbish pick-up. Photo: Salvemos São Conrado.

We’ve also been trying to go into schools as much as possible to explain to the students the consequences of pollution and to teach them tips for recycling their rubbish.

Recycling workshop in a school. Photo: Salvemos São Conrado.

Many of the students were very distressed when they saw photos of a dead dolphin on São Conrado beach. I hope that these young people will help us to improve the situation. I am also trying to forge partnerships with businesses that might want to take the plastic or rubbish we've collected in order to recycle them.

A dead dolphin on the beach. Photo: Marcelo Farias, Salvemos São Conrado.

However, we do all of that on a volunteer basis and, sometimes, we lack the material that we need for our awareness-raising programs, like projectors. Recently, Rio elected a new mayor and I sincerely hope that he will be more receptive to our demands. There is also a new hotel under construction not far from the beach. I hope that the influx of tourists in this neighbourhood will push authorities to clean up this beach to a more acceptable state.

Last July, just before the start of the Olympic games, several Brazilian activists denounced the level of pollution in the water, especially in the bay of Guanabara, where several water sport events were scheduled to take place.

To alert Brazilian authorities to the need to clean up the coast before the Olympic games, biologist Mario Moscatelli organised a symbolic "burial" at Botafogo beach, which was one of the most polluted by rubbish and sewage water.

>> READ MORE: Will Olympic sailing events take place in a “giant sewer”?

Do you want to offer a helping hand with this project? Just hit 'like'! We are planning to release a special video of the project that had the most likes this month. We’ll share the video on the social media accounts of the Observers and FRANCE 24.