Back to anecdotes

BRAZIL: MEETING MARIO

When I learned that we could interview Mario Moscatelli, I could not believe it. His name is so well known in Rio de Janeiro. This is the man who defined, or rather redefined ecology in the 1970s in Brazil, the country of the future.

We met in the Guanabara Bay, one of the largest open dumps in Rio de Janeiro. Upon arrival at the airport, there is a wonderful feeling of landing in a tumultuous tropical city before being immediately overwhelmed by the stench of sewage emanating from the lagoon.

This devastating environment is a reminder of the number of illegal citizens that Rio de Janeiro welcomes. By illegal, I mean all people who live below the basic living standards. This lagoon is the garbage can of the city's favelas. For Mario, "this lagoon has layers and layers of garbage that portray a picture of human evolution, and the evolution of our waste. Human bodies, chopped or left whole to rot, televisions, beds, diapers, old refrigerators and other objects of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc."

Mario Moscatelli and his team have been assigned the impossible task of cleaning up and replanting Guanabara Bay before the 2014 World Cup.

He drove us around to show us the hundreds of trees he planted on these hostile lands. I was struck by the unique way his car Is decorated, complete with designs from Star Wars, of which he is obviously a huge fan. He laughed and told us that his life was like Luke Skywalker’s as he used his finger to point out the extent of his mission to clean up the bay.

In the 1970s, this man was the first to roll up his sleeves and by himself start cleaning the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. (The Lagoa, one of the central lakes of the city that connects some of the most prestigious areas, such as Ipanema). While others were sitting behind their desks and planned what should be done to save the lagoon, Mario went there and did it himself. With his family, his wife and children. People thought he was crazy but he succeeded. Since then, nothing can stop him.

"When I was given the task of cleaning the Lagoa, it was real human toilet, filled with dead fish. I planted mangroves. Today, fish no longer die there. Lagoa hosts 22 different species. This means that part of my duty has been done. I applied this concept to all professions, whether it be doctors, lawyers, engineers. I think it is an obligation for every human being, even if he has no real profession, to leave behind a better world than the one in which he was born."

We arrived at the polluted bay. Mario showed us the young shoots of mangroves that he and his team had successfully planted. Before being able to plant anything in that area, layers of garbage must be removed.

Mario is happy and victorious. He looks around him and sees an area so vast it is like looking at the sea and its limitless horizon. He says he is confident that they will clean up the entire bay, perhaps not by 2014, but he will complete this work during his lifetime and bequeath it to his children. We looked with admiration at the magnitude of this man’s task, which he is confidant he will accomplish one day. This is the dirty work that nobody wanted to undertake and here he is, totally happy to do it even though it represents only a small portion of this immense area.

At the end of the interview, Mario sings the "Star Wars" theme with a big smile. We said goodbye and he returned to his never-ending task. As he says, whatever our profession, it is our duty to leave things in a better state that the one in which they were found. Mario's work is a legacy, a benchmark for the future of his children and for Brazil. Thank you Mario.

Carolina Sá
Reporter of the mission to Brazil