Every day Filipe Silva goes back and forth the six kilometers that correspond to the extent of the Tinto River, which borders the Parque Oriental do Porto between Gondomar and Porto. Its job is to check all the edges of the watercourse to determine if there is an anomaly in the aspect or smell of the river and, if necessary, to identify its origin – for example illegal discharges of waste or improper connections – and the competent authorities to alert to solve the problem. “Before we got here and couldn’t see the bottom of the river, there are now fish, birds and lots of animals,” reports the kingfisher, one of the three professionals who are part of the team created by Águas do Porto.
The municipal company began testing the return of that number in 2017 with just one kingfisher on the team, but “things were going so well that it was necessary to expand,” reveals Cláudia Costa, Águas do Porto representative. The intervention of the depollution and rehabilitation of the Tinto River, formulated between the City Council of Porto and the City Council of Gondomar and incorporated into the contract for the reproduction of the Parque Oriental, modified in 2019 to 16 hectares, emphasized the indispensability of the surveillance works and Maintenance for the well-being of waters. “This is a very useful feature as it deals not only with monitoring water quality, but also biodiversity,” confirms Filipe Araújo, Vice President of Câmara do Porto and Councilor for Innovation and Environment.
Daily development of the rivers
The restoration of the Tinto River, dubbed “the largest environmental liability in the city and one of the largest in the region” by the mayor, began a few years ago but was accelerated by the work of the interceptor, whose budget was nine million euros in community funds and linked the Meiral wastewater treatment plants in Gondomar and Freixo in Porto. “The river used to be brown, you couldn’t even see the stones,” says Filipe Araújo. “Now it is washed over the years,” an organic process in which the kingfisher plays a “crucial role”.
Filipe Silva is always there to record any anomalies of Adriano Miranda
For the vice president of the ward, these professionals are “our eyes and noses because irregularities are often discovered through smells”. Filipe Silva is “always on the move”, his senses are well focused and the tablet is ready to record the events he is exposed to, regardless of whether they are small changes in the flow or illegal acts. In addition to a brief survey, the daily record includes mandatory photographic record points. “This enables us to monitor the development of each point in a very concrete manner,” explains Cláudia Costa. On the other hand, he adds, the presence of kingfishers in this and other rivers and streams in the city has “an environmental component”.
Because the park has been re-qualified and has pedestrian and bike paths, there are many people who visit it frequently and have gotten used to sharing space with the kingfisher – some even take an attitude of more proactivity and involvement and serve almost like additional team members. “People talk to us a lot and also make us aware of certain anomalies,” says Filipe Silva. The complicity with passers-by is so great that there are those who have their direct contact to warn if a problem arises immediately. “Some even take photos and send them.”
Before the river was restored, it was not possible to see the bottom Adriano Miranda
Less punishment, more prevention
Citizens’ involvement also extends to the signaling of odors in certain sections of the river through the Odor Collect application from the European D-Noses project, which involves institutions such as the Porto Chamber and Lipor and which are widespread throughout the tour of the park. “We have the kingfisher because we think we should take care of this monitoring of the waterways, but there is also a logic of cooperation [com os munícipes]”, Notes Filipe Araújo.
Lipor, an inter-municipal service that manages metropolitan waste in the Greater Porto area and is a key partner in the pollution of the Tinto River, pioneered the restoration of the profession that was assigned to hydraulic services between the 18th and 20th centuries Portugal and even had hundreds of national territories. Although the kingfisher has traditionally been associated with monitoring and protecting waterways by inspecting scenarios of pollution, cutting trees, fishing illegally, doing bedside work or on the banks of public waters, “it used to be more like a police force, Diana observes Nicolau von Lipor’s Education, Communication and Marketing Department. “”[Se antes tinha uma função de autuação]Today it is about the prevention and monitoring of rivers. “
This is precisely one of the tasks of Luís Ramos, who is responsible for the section about 300 meters from the Tinto River, which penetrates the Lipor land in Baguim do Monte and connects two water rivers of Maia and Valongo. “If there is an event, I have to see which side it is on and contact the city officials,” explains the employee, who has been with the company and the river keepers since the end of 2016. After being placed in that position, I didn’t want to do any other thing. “I like nature very much and I consider myself privileged to be able to run outdoors,” he told PÚBLICO.
The Tinto River is about 11 km long and crosses four parishes, but only about 300 meters flows on the land of Lipor Adriano Miranda
Increase in biological diversity
While it wasn’t Lipor’s first kingfisher – the company rebuilt the profession in 2015 as part of the Rio Tinto Improvement Project launched in 2013 – it has been in business long enough to know that the pollution incidents were “much less on time than in the past “. Luís also fills out a daily inspection report with data such as color, odor or residue from five sampling points. The records are then compiled and sent monthly to chambers, local councils, water companies, the Portuguese Environmental Protection Agency (APA) and other agencies that are part of the Rio Tinto Collaboration Protocol.
The greatest reward for this work, emphasizes Luís, is to see the biodiversity that occurs. Not always visible and easy to identify with the naked eye, but always more expressive, as the PUBLIC realized when visiting Lipor on the day when a frog was swimming calmly in the river and a few minutes later a snake crossed the path at a glance. “The midwife frog, the moorhen, the kingfisher appear, we even saw an eel,” he lists.
The watercourse borders the walkway that leads to the observation center of Parque Aventura Adriano Miranda
Since the Parque Aventura, a recreational and educational area that opened in 2010 on the old Ermesinde / Baguim do Monte landfill, is surrounded by the ecological trail created in 2017 and accessible to the public, the river is more exposed to potential risks. On the other hand, “it has the advantage of being able to tell visitors about it,” emphasizes Diana Nicolau. This work has already been done in part through visits to groups and schools, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, when Luís Ramos hosts and speaks to the public about his work. As soon as contact with the public is resumed, Lipor would like to continue a kind of thematic visit “A day as a kingfisher”, during which young people can “simulate these functions and have their own inspection report”.