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Atafona, the Brazilian resort that is disappearing under the sea

Vultures prowl in the sand, among the rubble of the last houses destroyed by the sea. Atafona, a peaceful seaside resort north of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, suffers from chronic erosion exacerbated by warming which transformed it into an apocalyptic landscape.

Due to a combination of natural and human factors, the sea advances up to six meters per year and has already submerged more than 500 houses in a 2 km strip. One of the next will be that of businessman Joao Waked Peixoto.

Walking next to a jumble of beams and tiles, Waked Peixoto shows how the last house that separated his from the sea succumbed: just subtract the background of a blue room in which fragments of magazines, a bicycle and other signs of recent life are shaken by the wind.

In the risk area, only 180 houses with 302 inhabitants are still standing.

The peaceful seaside resort north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is suffering from chronic erosion exacerbated by warming. AFP photo

Sucker Punch

“When will we have to leave? It is unknown, the sea advanced from three to four meters in 15 daysour wall may not be here next week,” Waked Peixoto, who moved to Atafona with his family during the pandemic, told AFP.

Like many residents of Campos dos Goytacazes, a prosperous city north of Rio de Janeiro that receives royalties from oil, his grandfather built his summer home in nearby Atafona: a spacious-roomed refuge with a garden.

“It will be a shame to lose this housewhich keeps the memories of my entire family, my parents, sisters… we all used to come here”, laments Waked Peixoto.

But it will be unavoidable.

Sao Joao da Barra, Rio de Janeiro.  AFP photo

Sao Joao da Barra, Rio de Janeiro. AFP photo

Extreme erosion, which places Atafona among the 4% of the world’s coastline where the sea consumes more than five meters per yearhas now worsened due to climate change, with “sea level rise” in the long term and “in the short and medium term with exceptional hangovers and prolonged periods of rain and drought”, explains geologist Eduardo Bulhoes, from the Fluminense Federal University.

But the spa has suffered from a “chronic problem” for decades.

“The use that man made of the Paraíba do Sul River [uno de los principales del sudeste de Brasil] in the last 40 years drastically reduced the volume of its waters and its capacity to transport sand to the mouth” in Atafona, explains Bulhoes, listing activities such as mining and diversions for agriculture.

The Paraíba do Sul River in the last 40 years drastically reduced the volume of its waters.  AFP photo

The Paraíba do Sul River in the last 40 years drastically reduced the volume of its waters. AFP photo

With this “deficit” of sediment, the beach does not naturally replenish and is yielding to the advance of the sea.

Thereto the construction of houses on the coast is addedwhich eliminates the first line of natural defense: sand dunes and vegetation.

Without that protection, the sea bit the surface, leaving a submerged graveyard of debris and structures that made any dip dangerous and scared away tourists.

The reduction in river flow has also affected fishermen.

Atafona beach.  AFP photo

Atafona beach. AFP photo

“Large ships no longer pass through the river delta (…) and the money goes away,” Elialdo Bastos Meirelles, who presides over a fishermen’s colony of some 600 members, tells AFP.

“The river is dead,” he says.

Proposals

At least three proposals were presented to the Mayor’s Office to curb erosion, including the construction of breakwaters or breakwater dikes to reduce the force of the sea and the artificial recovery of the beach by transporting sand from the bottom of the river delta.

A view of how the sea advances.  AFP photo

A view of how the sea advances. AFP photo

The latter, formulated by Bulhoes, is inspired by models from countries such as the Netherlands, Spain or the United States and aims to “build together with nature, using his strength to put the beach system back together.

But so far nothing has come off the paper.

The Mayor’s Office of Sao Joao da Barra, to which Atafona belongs, pays a social rent of 1,200 reais (USD 230) to more than 40 evicted families.

But he affirms that any plan depends on the approval of environmental bodies and that “until now” there is no project with a definitive solution, Alex Ramos, Undersecretary for the Environment of the municipality, told AFP.

Joao Waked Peixoto walks through Atafona.  AFP photo

Joao Waked Peixoto walks through Atafona. AFP photo

Others argue that political will is lacking.

“We hear promises (…) But it is an abandoned city, an apocalypse, it makes you want to cry,” cries Verónica Vieira, president of the SOS Atafona neighborhood association.

Among those who still have hope, is the retired Sonia Ferreira, 77, owner of an imposing two-story house, that he had to abandon when the water began to eat away at his rear wall, in 2019.

Widowed, she moved into a tiny apartment she built on her own land, waiting for a solution. When she arrives, “I’ll paint the house again and live here again,” she says.

AFP Agency

PB

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