Anchored in shallow, cloudy waters just a few hundred yards from the mangrove swamps that dominate this wild and empty coastline, the fishermen rolled in their nets. The three men had spent 5 days at sea, and their catch glittered on the deck.
“It’s good fishing,” said Cleyton Celeiro, 26, who feeds his wife and two children with money earned on trips to the Amapá state coast, on the far north-eastern corner of the Amazon. “It’s beautiful; I like it. I’m proud to be a fisherman.”
But the bucolic peace is threatened by two of the world’s biggest oil companies’ plans to start drilling a hundred miles or so out to sea. This alarms Celeiro.
“If there is a leak, it will kill all the fish. It will be very bad for us,” he said.
Not all fishermen share his concerns. As he maneuvered his tiny boat to a waterside gas station in Oiapoque, the nearest town, Maxibreno de Nazaré, 20, said drilling would mean a ready supply of cheaper fuel, not realizing that crude oil would be refined elsewhere.
“If you say money, nobody cares about a leak,” he said.
This dishevelled and sleepy town of 25,000 on Brazil’s border with French Guiana, 250 miles north of the Amazon’s mouth, has become the latest frontline in a global battle between oil companies pushing for new reserves and environmentalists who argue the oil should be left in the ground.
While some countries are backing away from fossil fuels, Brazil is heading in the opposite direction. Its business-friendly government encourages international oil companies to invest here and advocates development in protected Amazon areas.
BP and Total are among several companies who bought exploration rights in the mouth of the Amazon basin in a 2013 tender. If environmental licences are approved, drilling could start as soon as next year.
But environmentalists say this area is too sensitive to risk.
The 2,500-sq-mile Cabo Orange national park where Celeiro was fishing is home to protected species such as the Amazon manatee and the small-tooth sawfish. An enormous coral reef system was only recently confirmed near drilling areas and filmed and photographed for the first time this year by a Greenpeace boat. Plankton in the seas the companies plan to drill in absorb huge quantities of carbon dioxide, helping reduce global warming.
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