“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” –John F. Kennedy
As sailors, we are inextricably linked to the ocean. On the most basic level, we need it to practice the sport we love. Even more importantly, we need a healthy ocean. Not just for the sake of our passion, but for the sake of our planet and the generations to come. Recent reports from Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Sailing venue, bring to light the contamination of our seas and its influence on even the most highly regarded regattas.
Rio’s first official test event at Guanabara Bay will take place in less than three months, and it is still dangerously polluted. Most visibly, dead animals, tires, couches, and other large discarded items litter the bay. If left as-is, the debris will be more than an eyesore; it will likely alter the race results as well. If a boat collided with a partially submerged object, it would surely affect the outcome of the race in such a competitive fleet. Likewise, even small plastic bags can slow boats and inhibit steering by wrapping around blades. Appallingly, this isn’t the worst part of sailing in the bay. Almost seventy percent of Rio’s untreated sewage goes directly into the ocean, and Guanbara Bay’s sewage levels are consistently over the legal limit, which is much more lenient in Brazil than in the United States. Contact with this extremely contaminated water can cause Hepatitis A, cholera, dysentery and a multitude of other diseases. Sailors will without a doubt be exposed to the harmful water while competing, causing a worldwide outcry for more water testing and a change of venue. International sailors have referred to the sailing site as an open sewer, and even Brazilian sailors have spoken out in condemnation of Brazil’s inability to make good on promises for clearer and cleaner water for the 2016 games. For more information, check out this Guanabara Bay footage.
The buzz surrounding Guanabara Bay applies to more than just Olympians. It serves as a reminder to us all that we cannot reverse the damage our species has done to the ocean. It would take over a decade to significantly decrease Guanbara Bay’s pollution, and the wildlife and pure quality of water will never return. Imagine sailing through miles of murky water filled with debris. Instead of enjoying the smell of the ocean and the occasional salty spray, you cower away from the diseased water. There is no sea life in sight. A world without clean, healthy seas is a world without sailing the way we know and love it today. We are lucky enough to have the biggest playing field in the world, and it is our job to make sure it remains untainted.
Here are 10 easy ways you can help: Save the Ocean
Sources: USA Today, NY Times, National Geographic