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Guanabara Bay

Guanabara Bay
Baía de Guanabara
Satellite image of Guanabara Bay
Location Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Type Bay
River sources


and others
Ocean/sea sources South Atlantic
Max. length 31 km (19 mi)
Max. width 28 km (17 mi)
Surface area 412 km2 (159 sq mi)
Islands Ilha do Governador, Paquetá, Freguesia
Settlements Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, Duque de Caxias, São Gonçalo

Guanabara Bay (Portuguese: Baía de Guanabara, IPA: ) is an oceanic bay located in Southeast Brazil in the state of Rio de Janeiro. On its western shore lies the city of Rio de Janeiro and Duque de Caxias, and on its eastern shore the cities of Niterói and São Gonçalo. Four other municipalities surround the bay's shores. Guanabara Bay is the second largest bay in area in Brazil (after the All Saints' Bay), at 412 square kilometres (159 sq mi), with a perimeter of 143 kilometres (89 mi).

Guanabara Bay is 31 kilometres (19 mi) long and 28 kilometres (17 mi) wide at its maximum. Its 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) wide mouth is flanked at the eastern tip by the Pico do Papagaio (Parrot's Peak) and the western tip by Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf).

The name Guanabara comes from the Tupi language, goanã-pará, from gwa "bay", plus "similar to" and ba'ra "sea". Traditionally, it is also translated as "the bosom of sea."


  • History 1
  • Description 2
  • Environment 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5


View of Rio de Janeiro from Guanabara Bay (early 20th century picture).

Guanabara Bay was first encountered by Europeans on January 1, 1502, when one of the Portuguese explorers Gaspar de Lemos and Gonçalo Coelho[1] arrived on its shores. According to some historians,[2] the name given by the exploration team to the bay was originally Ria de Janeiro "January Sound", then a confusion took place between the word ria, which at the time was used to designate a bay or a sound, and rio "river". As a result the name of the bay was soon fixed as Rio de Janeiro. Later, the city was named after the bay. Natives of the Tamoio and Tupiniquim tribes inhabited the shores of the bay.

After the initial arrival of the Portuguese, no significant European settlements were established until French colonist and soldiers, under the Huguenot Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon invaded the region in 1555 to establish the France Antarctique. They stayed briefly on Lajes Island, then moved to Serigipe Island, near the shore, where they built Fort Coligny. After they were expelled by Portuguese military expeditions in 1563, the colonial government built fortifications in several points of Guanabara Bay, rendering it almost impregnable against a naval attack from the sea. They were the Santa Cruz, São João, Lajes and Villegaignon forts, forming a fearsome crossfire rectangle of big naval guns. Other islands were adapted by the Navy to host naval storehouses, hospitals, drydocks, oil reservoirs and the National Naval Academy.


View of Rio de Janeiro from Guanabara Bay
Guanabara bay viewed from Corcovado

There are more than 130 islands dotting the bay, including:

The bay is crossed by the Rio-Niterói Bridge (13.29 kilometres (8.26 mi) long and with a central span 72 metres (236 ft) high) and there is heavy boat and ship traffic, including regular ferryboat lines. The Port of Rio de Janeiro, as well as the city's two airports, Galeão - Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport (on Governador Island) and Santos Dumont Airport (on reclaimed land next to downtown Rio), are located on its shores. The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro main campus is located on the artificial Fundão Island. A maze of smaller bridges interconnect the two largest islands, Fundão and Governador, to the mainland.

There is an Environmental Protection Area (APA), which is located mostly in the municipality of Guapimirim and given the name of (APA) Guapimirim.

Sunrise over Guanabara Bay from central Rio de Janeiro—the cities of Niterói and São Gonçalo are opposite on the Bay's eastern shore


Guanabara Bay's once rich and diversified ecosystem has suffered extensive damage in recent decades, particularly along its mangrove areas.[3]The bay has been heavily impacted by urbanization, deforestation, and pollution of its waters with sewage, garbage, and oil spills. As of 2014, more than 70% of the sewage from 12 million inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro now flows into the bay untreated.[4]

There have been three major oil spills in Guanabara Bay. The most recent was in 2000 when a leaking underwater pipeline released 1,300,000 litres (340,000 US gal) of oil into the bay, destroying large swaths of the mangrove ecosystem. Recovery measures are currently being attempted, but more than a decade after the incident, the mangrove areas have not returned to life.

One of the world's largest landfills is located at Jardim Gramacho adjacent to Guanabara Bay. It was closed in 2012 after 34 years of operation. The landfill attracted attention from environmentalists and it supported 1700 people scavenging for recyclable materials.[5]

As part of the preparations for the 2016 Rio's Olympics Games, the government was supposed to improve the conditions, but progress has been slow[6] and there is fear that most of the improvements will be short-term which will be abandoned after the Olympics when the little political will there is for cleaning up the bay disappears.[7] In June 2014 Dutch windsurfer and former Olympic and world champion[8] Dorian van Rijsselberghe made an urgent appeal to government and industry in The Netherlands to collaborate in cleaning up the bay, together with the Plastic Soup Foundation.[9][10] The Dutch government picked up the message and formulated a Clean Urban Delta Initiative Rio de Janeiro together with a consortium of Dutch industry, knowledge institutes and NGOs which will be presented to the Brazilian authorities in the State of Rio de Janeiro.


  1. ^ (Portuguese) Jorge Couto, 1995, A Construção do Brasil, Lisbon: Cosmos.
  2. ^ (Portuguese) Vasco Mariz, 2006, "Os Fundadores do Rio de Janeiro: Vespucci, Villegagnon ou Estácio de Sá?", in Brasil-França. Relações históricas no período colonial, Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército, p. 80.
  3. ^ 
  4. ^ Super bacteria' found in Rio's Olympic waters"'". The Big Story. 
  5. ^ Barchfield, Jenny (5 June 2012). "Rio closes massive Jardim Gramacho dump".  
  6. ^ "Local News - The News Tribune". 
  7. ^ Carneiro, Julia (10 January 2014). "Rio's Olympic waters blighted by heavy pollution". BBC Brasil. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Dorian van Rijsselberghe
  9. ^ "Een baai vol shit opruimen die hap - Life of Dorian". Dorian van Rijsselberghe. 
  10. ^

Further reading

  • Jablonski, Silvio; de Freitas Azevedo, Alexandre; Moreira, Luiz Henrique Arantes (January 2006). "Fisheries and Conflicts in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil" (PDF). Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology (Brazil) 49 (1): 79–81.  
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