RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Teams of biologists were working on Monday to rescue fish from a river that was contaminated after two dams at an iron ore mine breached earlier this month, unleashing a deadly wave of mud.
Mining company Samarco said in a statement that it was providing logistical support to the so-called "Operation Noah's Ark" effort aimed at saving aquatic life from the now-turbid waters of the Doce River. Experts have warned that the ecological harm caused by the Nov. 5 breaches could last a generation.
The company, co-owned by mining giants Vale of Brazil and BHP Billiton of Australia, said in the Monday statement that it has provide six 1,000-liter tanks to house the fish removed from Doce River, as well as two trucks to transport them to area lakes.
Samarco said that it's also helping to dig wells along the river, a water source for hundreds of thousands of people. Water utilities in towns and cities in Minas Gerais and the neighboring state of Espirito Santo have suspended siphoning water from the river as the red tide has surged upstream, killing fish, turtles and other aquatic life.
Rio de Janeiro's O Globo newspaper reported that the Abrolhos archipelago, a system of islands and reefs that are Brazil's main hotspots for marine life, could also be at risk from the mud tide. The archipelago is located north of where the Doce River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on the winds and tides, the red stain could reach this sensitive area, which is a breeding ground for several species of endangered sea turtles and dolphins.
"If the pattern of impact remains the same, the flora and fauna will be devastated," the report quotes Joao Carlos Thome, a coordinator with Brazil's ICMBio environmental agency, as saying.
While the company has said the mud is not toxic to humans, the report said tests had revealed much higher-than-limited levels of iron and aluminum, which could prove fatal to many forms of marine life.
Last week, the Brazilian government said it had levied a $65 million fine against Samarco.