Ask the Expert: Marine Biologist and Documentarist

Rio de Janeiros stunning landscapes is one of the reasons for its nickname of the Marvelous City or Cidade Maravilhosa. Drastic hills fall into the ocean, while urban life clings to beaches and the outskirts of forest. Yet the Guanabara Bay (Baía de Guanabara) in Rio de Janeiro is unfortunately also known for its pollution, especially with the attention attracted by the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Despite promises for the bay’s treatment before the games, pollution continues to enter the Guanabara Bay. However, Brazilian marine biologist and documentarist Ricardo Gomes is shedding a light on the iconic Guanabara Bay in his new documentary Urban Bay (Baía Urbana). Produced with support from the UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre)Urban Bay takes a deep dive into Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay to reveal the marine life that still exists in the city’s bay despite the common misperception that the area is void of life. Although highlighting the biodiversity of the Bay, Gomes’ film is a call to action, as he recognizes that nature’s resiliency in this environment is at risk due to high levels of water pollution and ocean acidification.

What was your motivation for producing this film?

I started diving and filming the biodiversity of the Guanabara Bay to show to the public that the Guanabara Bay wasn’t completely dead, to wake up their desire to preserve the bay. We don’t protect or care for what we don’t know and Guanabara Bay is, in fact, a mirror for what humans are doing to the ocean at large. But as I began the filming, my daughter was born. I started to realize that I was not just making a film to save the Guanabara Bay, but rather to save ourselves. Every time we breathe, we are using a service provided to us by the ocean: did you know that 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from marine photosynthesis? Pollution, eutrophication, overfishing, climate change, and ocean acidification all threaten the ocean’s ability to continue providing us this service, as well as many other ecosystem services on which we depend.

After diving and filming in the Guanabara Bay, what do you see as the main concerns (and hopes) for it?

The Guanabara Bay is indeed plagued by high levels of pollution. There were many times during the filming of the documentary where I doubted myself– I would ask myself what I was doing diving in this area known to be so contaminated. Yet I do have hope for the Bay, hope for us as humans to act, and that’s what helped me keep going despite the risks associated with making this film. I’ve been diving in the Guanabara Bay for almost two decades and in the production of this film, I obtained more than 100 hours of footage. I swam with moray eels, octopus, rays, squids, turtles, coral, and a wide range of different types of fish. They are resilient and are still surviving, even when we would think that nothing could live in such polluted waters. This gives me optimism but also makes me work harder to bring the change needed because we don’t know how long they will be able to survive, how long nature’s resiliency can be tested.

Besides water pollution, the ocean is at significant risk from climate change. Higher water temperatures and ocean acidification are among some of the effects of climate change (and excessive atmospheric CO2) that have harmful impacts on marine ecosystems. I do have hope though. The change needed to make a difference is within us. And it only takes a small change within us to make things better, just a small shift in how we look at things and how we do things. That’s why I have hope.

What is the message you want to send to the public with this film?

What’s going on here in the Bay of Rio isn’t unique to this area… it’s happening all over the world. By illustrating the case of the Guanabara Bay, I mean to get the world’s attention. This isn’t just about Rio, or about Brazil. This is about our whole world, about the system that is present all over the globe.

We as human beings are part of the beauty that is nature. Yet we must learn to not want to control it or dominate nature, realizing that we do make up a piece of it and that we depend on it. Right now we are passing through a significant time, one where we can decide to either bring change and to be the change our world needs, or not. Although this transition period is scary, change and insecurity can always be scary, but being able to change now, to alter and get out of our comfort zones is fundamental.

After 500 years since the Portuguese arrived in Rio de Janeiro, this is the first time that the life under the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro is being filmed. And that’s what this film is about: Showing the life under the Bay is like a second discovery of Brazil for the population of Rio de Janeiro, and for the world. By rediscovering the ocean and our own habits, we can make a change.

We must put pressure on policymakers for change while also enacting change in our own lives. Being conscious of what seafood you eat to ensure that you’re not contributing to overfishing and cutting down on meat (to reduce your carbon footprint) are simple things that we can do to make a change. Opening our eyes to the life that sustains us, whether under or above water, is one way to give back to the earth.

Twenty years from now my daughter’s generation will look back at today in either disappointment or in inspiration. I don’t want to have to explain to her why we weren’t able to act, to protect our precious earth. The real inheritance I want to leave my daughter isn’t disappointment, or even an apartment or money. It’s a healthy ocean and a healthy planet- because without this, no type of material inheritance matters.

Will you be in New York City the first week of June and interested in seeing the film Urban Bay? UNDP and Ricardo Gomes will be organizing a global screening of the film on June 7 and June 9, 2017. Click here to learn more about and register for the events.

tartaruga baia 2016

baia coral 2

ricardo 2016

Images @Ricardo Gomes

Interview by R.Byrd. To watch more of Gomes’ beautiful clips, visit his Vimeo site here.

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