El Cascajo – Translation
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[Daniel Alarcón]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. This is Daniel Alarcón.
[Marino Morikawa]: El Cascajo Wetland, you could argue, was my school, my university, my graduate school and my entire life.
[Daniel]: That’s Marino Morikawa. He’s a 43-year-old Peruvian scientist. He grew up in the Huaral province, north of the city of Lima. And the wetland he talks about, El Cascajo–or Santa Rosa, the official name–was about twenty minutes by car from his house and about a hundred meters from the sea.
Because it’s a coastal wetland, the water in the river coming down from the mountain, and the water in the sea seep below the ground, creating a body of water, like a lagoon.
[Marino]: My father, son of immigrants, had a well-defined Japanese culture. He loved fishing. And I remember that every weekend we would go fishing and of course, a family thing, we would have picnics there, right? And we had a good time.
[Daniel]: His mother and two older sisters also came along.
[Marino]: We had great family moments. We went to the wetland, we got in the water, we bathed. Every now and then, we would bring our… our inflatable boats. And at that time it was a fabulous thing because there was immense biodiversity, lots of birds.
[Daniel]: It was a very diverse ecosystem, with many different species of animals and plants. The birds included Andean coots, red ducks, huaco herons, cormorants, Andean flamingos, or parihuanas, as they’re called in Peru. The size of El Cascajo has changed over the years, mainly due to human intervention, but in total it extended over more than 280 hectares, which is about 339 large soccer fields.
And that’s where Marino, who was six or seven years old at the time, began to get very curious about biology, ecosystems, nature.
But the times of terrorism came to Peru, and Marino and his family were consumed with fear. They stopped going to the wetland in the late eighties, when the armed conflict in the country grew increasingly dangerous. And those beautiful images of the wetland remained in his memory and in family stories.
They didn’t go back for over twenty years. Until Marino, while doing a PhD in bio-industries in Japan, received a call from his father.
[Marino]: And he says, “Hey, do you remember El Cascajo?” “Sure,” I reply. “Well, you’re not going to believe me, I went fishing and it is completely wasted.”
[Daniel]: Wasted. His dad told him he had seen some shocking pollution. Because of agriculture and uncontrolled urban development, the wetland gradually shrank in size and it now covers an area of less than 45 hectares.
Marino couldn’t believe it; he had the best memories of El Cascajo. So he took advantage of a vacation in Peru in 2010 and asked his father to take him. He wanted to see with his own eyes what he had told him.
[Marino]: I got there and found it totally unrecognizable. As my father had said, there had been garbage accumulating for almost 30 years.
[Daniel]: It had become an illegal garbage dump where the waste from various towns in the area ended up.
[Marino]: There was an area about 800 meters long by 80 wide and 4 to 5 meters deep of pure garbage.
[Daniel]: There were also farms in the area with pigs, goats and cows, and the waste from these animals accumulated in the wetland. In addition, a sewer system had been installed around El Cascajo.
[Marino]: That sewer system, that pipeline— drained onto the seashore. When the waves came, it got plugged up with stones—that pipe outlet and all the lines burst and the wastewater came out and straight into the wetland.
[Daniel]: There were no longer any birds or fish. You couldn’t even see the water, because it was completely covered by invasive plants, called water lettuce, that usually grow in these contaminated sites. That mat of water lettuce kept the water from getting oxygenated. And the smell . . .
[Marino]: It smelled bad, that is, it was a horrible stench—nauseating, you know? Because it was water, wastewater, in the summer. And all that vapor, oh, it gave off a bad smell all over the entire place.
When I saw that devastating image, something emerged, came out— something natural inside me made me kneel, you know? And the first thing I did was to apologize for having neglected . . . that beautiful memory.
[Daniel]: Then he saw some local children walking at a distance from the wetland.
[Marino]: And I said, “It isn’t fair that those children have to go through this when I had a beautiful childhood. It isn’t fair that those children grow up around a garbage dump.”
[Daniel]: And at that moment, something occurred to him that for anyone else might have been a crazy idea. That El Cascajo could be revived. And that he was the person to do it.
Our producer, David Trujillo, continues the story.
[David Trujillo]: To understand why Marino’s idea was not completely far-fetched, we need to go back and trace his arrival in Japan.
Long before deciding that he was going to save El Cascajo, and long before traveling to Japan, Marino studied several things in Peru, but nothing related to the environment. He was engaged in advising the food and agricultural industries on quality-control issues, and that’s when he realized that many of these companies did not dispose of their waste properly.
[Marino]: These industries didn’t have any adequate wastewater treatment plants, you see. And many of them still don’t, to this day. And they drained all their wastewater into rivers, ditches or . . . or directly into the ocean.
[David]: They created pollution, and a lot of it. What they did with the solid waste from their production was to bury it.
[Marino]: I used to ask them, “Hey, why are you burying it? Can’t you treat it?” “No, no, no, don’t worry. Bacteria or bugs are going to eat it.” And obviously, it generated more curiosity on my part, so I began to investigate. I said, it can’t be like that, you know? Why else is it getting contaminated?
[David]: For Marino it was clear that in order to provide real solutions to these problems, he first had to study about the subject. He started looking for options in Peru but, according to him, at that time, in the mid-2000s, the country’s universities had no technological alternatives.
[Marino]: It was just theory. Theory alone wasn’t going to help much, because theory is good mainly as knowledge, but to execute an action or solution, it was not going to be of any use to anyone. So I said, “Ok, let’s see other countries that have technological alternatives to provide a solution to the problem.”
[David]: So he applied for a scholarship offered by the Japanese Ministry of Education. He got it, and that’s how he ended up studying at the University of Tsukuba in 2005. He was 28 years old.
[Marino]: I did two years of a master’s degree. My specialty was, uh, what’s known as bio-systems, which is renewable energy. Then, a PhD, where I specialized in bio-industries. The specialty was treatment of all kinds of wastewater.
[David]: Such as the water that comes out of houses, the water in city sewers, waters contaminated with mining waste or hydrocarbons. Marino decided that everything he learned in Japan, the technologies he acquired there, he would put into practice in El Cascajo.
It was a personal project that motivated him a lot. He would continue his studies in Japan, but he wanted to start showing that he could do something for these ecosystems, even if he had to travel constantly. And he also thought that maybe, if he did well, it could be the beginning of a career.
But it wasn’t that easy, either. To recover El Cascajo, many things were needed: improve the water quality, recover the biodiversity, convince the community of the importance of caring for it, and awaken the political will to guarantee its protection in the future. And, of course, each factor had its own degree of difficulty and its own methodologies. If he failed in one, he couldn’t go on with the rest.
During his vacation in 2010, when he went to Peru to see what his father had told him, Marino began by speaking with the mayor of Chancay, the district where the wetland is.
[Marino]: We’re lucky that the mayor is a friend of the family. His name is Juan Álvarez Andrade. Well, we call him “Juanelo,” so I said, “Juanelo, what are you doing here?” And I congratulated him, right? “Listen, Juanelo,” I said, “I want to save the wetland.” He was surprised. He opened his big eyes and told me, “But we don’t have any money, just so you know.”
[David]: Marino told him not to worry about it. He simply asked him to let him do his work and show that the wetland could be recovered.
[Marino]: “Just give me one year, that’s all, Juanelo,” I said. “Give me one year, and if in that year I can’t do anything, I’ll keep quiet, take my plane back and act as if nothing ever happened.” “Yeah, well, no problem, but it’s completely filthy.” So I said, “I will assume all the expenses, if something happens—medical expenses if anything happens to me. I’ll cover it all, including all the equipment that I’m going to use. But just give me this chance.” “All right, no problem.”
[David]: With the mayor’s permission, Marino began planning a budget.
[Marino]: The tickets have been a major issue. A plane ticket from Peru to Japan is very expensive.
[David]: The issue was that Marino’s idea involved traveling more or less once a month to spend a few days in the wetland and then continue with his obligations in Japan. That meant no less than a thousand dollars a month. And of course, there were other expenses:
[Marino]: Food, travel expenses, fuel. And then the other thing was the materials, uh, the technology itself.
[David]: The technology he planned to use to decontaminate the water. We’re going to talk about this in detail later. Anyway, Marino had a vague idea in his head of how much his project would cost and the amount was high.
So he started looking for ways to get the money.
[Marino]: I knocked on over ten doors to ask for financing. They all closed the doors on me because at the time they said, “Well, what do we gain from this? We do it, but what do I stand to gain?” “Well, marketing, recognition that you took care of the wetland.” “No, no. We aren’t interested.”
[David]: Marino had to resort to one last option to save his plan.
[Marino]: And I got to the point where I had no choice. I returned to Japan, withdrew all my savings, I got some bank loans, and returned to Peru.
[David]: Once on the wetland, Marino began to measure the behavior of the wind and the number of people passing by.
[Marino]: Approximately a hundred people walked by per day.
[David]: They were people who lived there, and Marino knew that eventually he would have to convince them that El Cascajo wasn’t supposed to be a sewer.
[Marino]: I needed these people to be the guardians of the place.
[David]: He worked alone, from six in the morning to eight o’clock at night. Then he would return to his parents’ house and continue to analyze the reports he had made and the samples he had collected.
To focus his work, Marino decided to divide the wetland into sectors.
[Marino]: I had divided it into sectors A1, A2, B1, B2, up to D1, D2: eight sectors. And I divided it using . . . using bamboo.
[David]: Then he began to remove all the water lettuce. All this work was completely manual. He would arrive at the wetland, put on one of those one-piece fisherman suits, rubber boots . . .
[Marino]: I went right into the wetland. I would go in up to the place where my suit covered me, with gloves to pile the lettuce together and push it.
[David]: To get it to the shore, Marino went as far as a meter and a half deep. Since there’s mud and sediment at the bottom, the physical effort was considerable—lifting a foot, taking one step, pulling the other one out, pushing the water lettuce, moving forward with force.
[Marino]: Without exaggerating, I could push roughly almost a hundred kilos of lettuce and push those hundred kilos. Of course . . . of course it weighs less in the water, but later, when it reached the shore, ten lettuces will weigh about two kilos, or so. I had to bend over, pick up the lettuce, stand up, and heave it.
[David]: Heave it out of the water. So the idea with that lettuce was to make organic compost and spread it over the arid parts of the area so that it would turn green. But even though he fished out a lot of water lettuce, it seemed endless. And he did this all alone. With no help from anyone.
But in addition to the lettuce, Marino had to remove the solid garbage that had already been submerged. From time to time, he found things that were really disgusting.
[Marino]: There were a lot of breeders and especially pig farmers. When a pig got sick, they would put it in a jute bag, right? With a stone inside, and throw it into the wetland. I must have removed over 30 bags of dead pigs from the wetland.
[David]: When he was done, he would pour alcohol all over his body to disinfect himself. And the following day, he started all over again.
Ok, here’s something obvious to say: What Marino was doing was strange. For those who lived near El Cascajo, it was pretty weird. Nobody got into the wetland like that. It was dirty, polluted and it stank. Of course people passing by began to notice his presence.
[Marino]: Several people who came by—well, here in Peru they call all Asians Chinese, you know? “Hey, Chino, get out of there. You’re going to get sick.”
[David]: They though he was crazy and he shouldn’t waste his time. That didn’t bother Marino. In fact, he wanted people to be curious about what he was doing.
[Marino]: That was the reaction I expected, because I would come out of the wetland and tell them, “No, look, this wetland is beautiful. We have to work on this together, what do you think?” They grabbed my shoulder, said “good luck” and left.
[David]: He remembers well that on the fourth day working, a lady came by with a bag.
[Marino]: And she said to me, “Chinito, come here. Come out for a little while. Come on, I brought you this, an emollient.”
[David]: The emollient is a barley-based drink with medicinal herbs, lemon and sugar.
[Marino]: She said this to me, eh? “From morning to night, I see that you don’t drink or eat anything.” I mean, wow, there are already people watching me and observing how I work.
[David]: And they were concerned about him. And that’s how more people began to come by offering him food.
[Marino], “Come on, let’s eat together.” Oh, so now they no longer say, “Take this and eat,” but rather “Let’s eat together.” They’re becoming involved in this. And so, when we sat down, of course, I accepted the food and I explained to them, “Hey, this really is a nice wetland.” There was now involvement, and everyone was sitting together, I remember. And later on, I would bring the drinks.
[David]: On the seventh day of working, Marino overslept because of all the physical fatigue that had been accumulating, and he arrived at the wetland a little later than usual.
[Marino]: And I got a big surprise when I arrived. All the people I greeted, all the people I spoke to, were in the wetland taking out the lettuce.
[David]: They were doing what they had seen him do during those days. They didn’t follow the necessary security protocols, but that was easily fixed. Marino had already achieved the most difficult thing: convincing them of how important it was to clean the wetland.
[Marino]: It was exciting. I mean, they were all, “Yay, we’re with you! Let’s reclaim it back together!” I’m not one to shed tears, but it was exciting to see everyone and give everyone a hug. A big one.
[David]: In one week, with that help, they cleaned an eighth of the wetland. That is, sector A1.
Marino started asking on social media if anyone wanted to help him recover the wetland, and four friends joined them. The number of helpers varied depending on the day. Sometimes it was dozens, other times it was just those four friends. Even so, Marino offered them food and working gear, such as boots, gloves and rakes. He named the group “Cascajo Team.”
[David]: But removing the lettuce and the trash was only part of the process, perhaps the simplest.
[Marino]: Cleaning up what you see is easy. But what about the components that you don’t see, whether organic, inorganic, bacteria. You can’t clean that by hand.
[David]: The water from El Cascajo had the same quality as the wastewater. And the treatment for those waters was what Marino was studying in Japan. So he decided that he would implement the technology he had seen there for these proceedings.
The system is called—and I know this is complicated name—micronanobubbles technology.
[Marino]: I got most of the tools at a hardware store, because I used, for example, an air compressor, a water pump, hmm, an electric generator . . .
[David]: And several hoses. What this system does is take the water from the place and the air from the atmosphere, it fills the water with bubbles and then sends it back to the wetland. But they’re not just any kind of bubbles.
[Marino]: The device made up to four types of bubbles: normal bubbles, fine bubbles, microbubbles, and nanobubbles.
[David]: Let’s go step by step. Normal bubbles are the ones you see in any liquid, almost always on the surface. The fine ones are smaller, like the ones in soda, and their size is approximately 0.01 millimeters.
[Marino]: And the microbubbles are six times smaller than the bubbles in soda.
[David]: And the nano are even smaller. Microscopic. That, in millimeters, is zero, comma, a lot of zeros, one. You just have to understand that there are bubbles so small that they can’t be seen. And this size is important because it determines how long they last in the water. Normal bubbles and fine bubbles, for example, rise faster to the surface, where they burst.
[Marino]: A microbubble, being microscopic in size, can be in a body of liquid thirty to forty minutes. The nanobubble can last three to eight hours in the body of liquid.
[David]: But in addition to the time in the water, the size of the nanobubbles causes them to generate an electrostatic system that attracts microorganisms of the same size. Simply put, they are magnets that attract bacteria.
This can do three things. First, the bacteria get trapped—like in a spider web—and end up dying from lack of food or mobility. Second, if the nanobubbles burst in the water, the bacteria also burst, that is, like some sort of microscopic bomb. And third . . .
[Marino]: What if this na . . . nano bubble gets suspended?
[David]: That is, if it goes up to the surface.
[Marino]: Since there are . . . there are a lot of bacteria there, when it reaches . . . it reaches the surface, due to the interaction with solar radiation, the wind or other components, the bacteria gasifies.
[David]: The other types of bubbles that the system produces also play a role.
[Marino]: The micro and fine bubbles, aside from helping to oxygenate the water, also—thanks to this oxygenation—help change the behavior of bacteria or organic components. The normal bubbles are simply a matter of oxygenation.
[David]: But the problem with this microbubble system is that it can have a negative effect on the body of water.
[Marino]: To be brief, we are also removing the good bacteria from the place. That’s why all this has to be based on scientific studies, and why tests must be carried out all throughout.
[David]: In order to know how long the technology can be applied and how any type of collateral damage can be avoided. So, thanks to the tests that Marino did during the first week, he decided to set the system for ten hours a day at various points.
In addition to that, he designed ceramic bio-filters that he also installed in each sector. With them he captured good bacteria and protected them from the nanobubbles, and then returned them to the wetland. These devices also absorbed inorganic components that the system was unable to handle.
[Marino]: We had designed some floats, from . . . from PVC pipes. We installed the devices there, on the PVC pipe. We went into the wetland as far as the hose went, because you had to have a water and air inlet. We got to that point and left an anchor to leave it in place, and we got out. We turned on the . . . the current generator so that the water pump and the air compressor could work.
[David]: Nowadays, other types of technologies are used to clean natural bodies of water, but at that time, according to Marino, at the beginning of the 2010s . . .
[Marino]: I was considered the first . . . the first person to use nanotechnology to recover bodies of water in the world.
[David]: Every day, Marino took samples of the water to see how it was evolving. He knew his system worked, he had already tested it in the lab, but what he wasn’t sure about was how long it would take to show results. On the 15th day . . .
[Marino]: I took some samples, right? And I took them . . . I took them to the lab. And the result was phenomenal. It had . . . it had reduced more than fifty percent of the pollution load.
[David]: Just because it was working, it didn’t mean the changes were going to be seen with the naked eye. And that was a challenge, especially with the residents in mind. He felt the need to show them some tangible progress.
[Marino]: What I thought about was, what do I have to do to move forward faster? How can I encourage people or make them spread that support so that I can keep moving forward? That way, it recovers faster or it makes other people become environmentally aware.
[David]: Because beyond decontaminating the wetland, one of the most important things was persuading people to take care of it. This is one of the factors that guarantees that the work will not be in vain. Fortunately, news of El Cascajo’s recovery began to appear in the local media.
[Journalist]: Doctor Marino Morikawa, an environmental specialist with a postgraduate degree in Japan, is carrying out the work of restoration and water purification in the Santa Rosa wetlands.
[David]: They also began interviewing him.
[Journalist]: And the work they’ve been doing is undoubtedly going to employ a lot of people.
[Marino]: It takes a lot of people, right? Now, as you see, we are just five people, and with five people we have already advanced as you see there. Obviously we need staff, you see? And if there are any volunteers who want to support us, they are welcome.
[David]: And this call worked. People began to arrive. Lots of them. Now the number of helpers could be as many as a hundred a day, and that sped up the work tremendously.
[Journalist]: We see that Marino Morikawa has managed to summon young people from universities, and also from the local community.
[David]: But also from other areas. This is one of the helpers they interviewed during a cleaning day.
[Journalist]: Where do you come from?
[Woman]: From Lima.
[Journalist]: And you come with the children, right?
[Woman]: Yes, they participate. We are from the Ecological Command and they participate too.
[Journalist]: How did you find out about this call?
[Woman]: From Facebook.
[David]: They also found out through national media.
[Man]: We found out from the newspaper on . . . yesterday, right?
[Niño]: Publímetro, yes.
[Child]: Friday, and we didn’t wait long, and . . . and we came early today . . .
[Journalist]: Since what time are you here?
[Man]: Since nine.
[Journalist]: Did you know Marino Morikawa?
[Man]: Hum, no. Only because of Publímetro, so we came to help, right?
[David]: Marino lived between Peru and Japan. Every month, he traveled to the wetland to work for a few days, and then returned to Tsukuba in Japan, to continue his obligations at the university. The Cascajo Team was becoming more and more consolidated. There were several people who took turns cleaning while he was away.
The wetland was slowly progressing.
But one day in January 2013, he received a call from one of his assistants.
[Marino]: And he says, “I’ve got some news for you,” he said. “Let me tell you that the wetland has turned white.”
[David]: White. Marino didn’t understand that clearly.
[Marino]: But it scared me.
[David]: White was not the color the wetland should be. The water, when collected, should have a little sediment, but it should never be white. He thought something in his system had to be wrong. He hadn’t been there for a few days and maybe someone, with good intentions but without knowledge of the matter, had added bleach or chlorine or disinfectant to it. That would damage the water.
He worried. He kept thinking about it all the time, about the physical and mental effort he had put into the project. About the hope he had awakened in people of recovering the wetland. About the damage to biodiversity that something like this could trigger.
But he was also thinking about the money.
[Marino]: I was obviously going through stress, right? Because obviously I was withdrawing . . . I had . . . I had withdrawn a hefty amount of money. A loan. How to repay it, you know?
[David]: With news like that, everything would end up going to waste.
The call was very short. Marino did not ask for explanations, his reaction was immediate.
[Marino]: I hung up the phone, bought the ticket and the next . . . the next day, I flew back to Peru.
[Daniel]: He wanted to see with his own eyes the magnitude of the damage and to know if it had a solution.
We’ll return after a pause.
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[Daniel]: Hello Ambulantes, did you register for Radio Ambulante Fest? The series of conversations with pioneers of the podcast will begin this Thursday with Nadia Reiman, producer of the episode of This American Life that won the first audio Pulitzer. There are quite a few cool events as part of the Fest, including workshops, listening clubs, and more conversations. You can see the full schedule at radioambulante.org/fest.
Welcome back to Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, Marino Morikawa had invested all of his savings and a great deal of his time recovering El Cascajo. But in 2013, while he was in Japan, one of his assistants called to tell him that the wetland had turned white.
Marino didn’t know how bad the problem might be, much less how long it would take him to fix it. Maybe he would even have to change his recovery strategy, and that was not part of his budget. He didn’t think twice and traveled to Peru.
But the surprise he got was bigger than he expected.
David Trujillo continues the story.
[David]: Marino arrived in Peru and left for El Cascajo almost immediately. During the whole trip he had imagined the worst.
[Marino]: It would have been wise of me to ask for an explanation.
[David]: Because when he arrived, that white color he saw, was not related to chlorine.
[Marino]: Not at all. The wetland was white because more than sixty, sixty-five percent of the wetland was covered with migrating birds. It was a white sheet.
[David]: Migrating birds. A species called Franklin’s gull. They flew by on their way from Canada and the United States, headed to the south of the continent; they saw the mirror of water of the recovered wetland and thought it would be a good place to rest.
It was a wonderful sign.
[Marino]: I said wow, this effort is paying off. The flora and fauna are indicators of the quality a wetland should have.
[David]: It hadn’t recovered fully, but it was clearly on the right track.
[Marino]: When I saw them flying and forming form those, those flocks of birds, and they form some . . . a . . . they make a fabulous show, you know?
[David]: And, of course, he was relieved.
[Marino]: Each bird that is here is the monetary amount that I have been able to invest. I mean, I . . . I thought of that as an analogy in order not to feel that stress that was weighing down on me. And I decided, much more boldly, to devote myself.
[David]: Seeing such good results, organizations joined the project. Even Coca-Cola decided to support the initiative, and together with NatGeo they made a program recounting the recovery process of El Cascajo.
For that year, 2013, Marino and the Cascajo Team, according to him, managed to recover around 95 percent of the wetland.
[Marino]: And the other—the second gift of life was that the flamingos returned.
[David]: In Peru they call upper-class people pitucas, people who always seek out the most comfortable and privileged conditions.
[Marino]: And I call flamingos, pituca birds, because they don’t—These birds do not stop in places that are dirty or have a high temperature. And there they’ve been, in up to their backs, swimming. In other words, it’s an indicator that the quality of the water in the wetland has been suitable for these . . . these pituca birds.
[David]: The near-total recovery of El Cascajo led the Congress of the Republic of Peru to make several acknowledgments since 2012. Then others came from different institutions. Then, the National Council for Science, Technology and Technological Innovation chose Marino as one of the three best scientists in the country in 2014.
Thanks to all he learned there about the behavior of nature and the application of technology, Marino started working from his university in Japan on similar projects in various parts of the world.
[Marino]: We were able to contribute to the recovery of more than thirty natural habitats. Whether in China, Korea, or North Africa, and we also contributed to research in the United States.
[David]: In other words, success.
Well, not completely. Although El Cascajo had been almost fully recovered, one detail was missing that would guarantee the work was worthwhile: the political authorities in the area had to commit to protecting that progress.
[Marino]: I made a handbook about it and gave that handbook to the municipality so they would take charge.
[David]: However, not everyone agreed with the administration headed by Mayor Juan Álvarez, the one who had granted permission to Marino, regarding El Cascajo
Around that same time, in 2013, the Wetland Environmental Surveillance Committee was created. It started as a citizen initiative, because according to its coordinator, William Jurado, they did not trust the Álvarez administration.
William has been involved with environmental and wetland issues for several years. According to him, that area reached the high levels of pollution due to Mayor Álvarez’s carelessness prior to Marino’s arrival.
[William Jurado]: He was the one who abandoned the wetland, he didn’t do a thing. The residents of the town asked the regional government, which is a higher level of government, to take part in the conservation.
[David]: In the conservation of the wetland. The regional government decided to join the initiative and began holding meetings and doing workshops with the people about it. From there was born the Committee—It would be the citizens themselves who would be in charge of monitoring this conservation.
The committee started with about fifteen volunteers. The first thing they did was to focus on caring for the wetland environment in the dry parts: they collected the garbage that was dumped in those areas, they made sure that people didn’t dump debris and other construction materials.
By then, Marino had been working on the recovery of the lagoon for three years.
[William]: And he started working on this issue just before us. When we were formed, he was already there. And we talked with him, I personally talked with him about holding a meeting and doing a systematic job. That is, in order to support what he was doing, right? And to work together.
[David]: But, according to William, Marino did not accept.
[William]: We were never able to have a meeting with him. The mayor at that time had some problems with us.
[David]: Because of the constant criticism they leveled at his administration and the neglect of the wetland.
[William]: When we began as a recognized institution, the mayor at the time didn’t look favorably on it. And he supported precisely—Marino Morikawa and his activities, right?
[David]: And that, according to William, prevented them from working together.
Marino’s discussion with the Committee began with something that seems insignificant: the name of the wetland. William insists that the official name is Santa Rosa.
[William]: Because in all the management documents, municipal and regional ordinances, in the oldest, the most recent, in the books, it shows up as a Santa Rosa wetland. And it was a tremendous debate, and we had to debate in municipal councils. So that the name wouldn’t be changed because he asked for it.
[David]: Marino asked for it because he never agreed that it should be called Santa Rosa.
[Marino]: Here in Peru, well, there’s certain love for the saints. I call it El Cascajo Wetland, why? I rely on its history and geography. It is the beach of El Cascajo, next to it is El Cascajo Hill, and to get there the way is called the El Cascajo Descent. So what do you have to call the wetland? Well, Cascajo, right? (laughs)
[David]: But for William, the name El Cascajo is part of a marketing strategy. Since Marino used to call it that since he was a child and the family history was so important in promoting his recovery activity, he wanted to make sure that was the official name.
[William]: The thing about Morikawa, for us, is that he’s a person who has told a story, who promotes it and who is a—he markets it very well. And from that he got a series of awards and funding.
[David]: And yes, William accepts that Marino can do whatever he wants with his job and get money for it. That isn’t the criticism.
[William]: When he starting talking of certain things that were not right about the wetland, then we said no.
[David]: William refers to the fact that when Marino, since 2012, began to receive recognition for his work in the wetland, he spoke of the almost total recovery of the ecosystem. But according to the Committee, that isn’t true, so they decided to publicly criticize what he had done.
They said, for example, that the wetland was not a sewer when Marino arrived and that, according to expert studies, there were already several species of birds. The wastewater contamination was obvious, but it was something that Marino’s micronanobubble system did not solve.
According to the samples they took, the water was still contaminated and the lettuce did not stop growing. In addition, as Marino has not put out any scientific publications on the matter, the effectiveness of the technology has not been confirmed.
Marino has never publicly denied them nor has he criminally denounced them for defamation. We asked him about these accusations, but he told us that he prefers not to speak about it and less when it comes to people who have been attacking him.
But anyway, Marino told us that from the beginning he viewed the creation of the Committee as a political strategy.
[Marino]: It was, I remember that . . . elections for mayors and regional government. They all got involved—When they saw it could profit them to be in the media, they all began to say, “We have to recover,” “I’m going to recover the wetland,” all those things.
[David]: And that’s why he refused to meet with them.
[Marino]: Because obviously, I was not going to allow them to politicize the place. I was not going to allow strangers without any training to want to meddle, as we say in Peru, want to stick in their spoonful without knowing anything. And did start to . . . to get in, didn’t they? (laugh) and politicize the place. Well, I was against that. So I generated some unpleasant feelings.
[David]: He chose not to attach any importance to a discussion that, for him, had only political intentions. What he has done in his lectures and interviews is show photos of the wetland when he arrived. It is completely covered in lettuce, there are pigs in the lagoon and a lot of garbage around.
As for birds, he said there are indeed previous studies on that. That when he arrived, there were approximately five species. But that also does not negate the fact that Franklin’s gulls wanted to rest there when they saw the mirror of water.
And, well, with respect to the micronanobubble system, it has received awards for that and positive feedback from scientists and engineers.
Only in 2014, when the Committee accused him of supporting the interests of a mega port that they plan to build in the area, did he decide to make public statements about it.
This is Marino in a press conference he gave, speaking on that subject.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
[Marino]: They have been saying that there is a correlation or identity of Marino Morikawa, who is siding with the TPCH.
[David]: TPCH, Chancay Port Terminal, the operating company of the mega port that involves one of the largest mining companies in Peru and a Chinese shipping company. According to the Committee, Marino followed the interests of the TPCH and refused to take actions to legally protect the wetland and avoid the environmental damage that the mega port would cause on the site.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
[Marino]: That is being said a lot, and I’m going to tell you honestly that I deny that, ok? Because those are . . . those are other people’s assessments, who don’t know the job and want to link me to a company that I don’t know.
[David]: At that same press conference, he was also emphatic in clarifying his position regarding the project that had been proposed.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
[Marino]: The first outline that the TPCH had was to build a road along El Cascajo beach, I don’t know if you remember. Who was the person who said “no” and opposed that idea? The person who is sitting in front of you.
[David]: He explained that he himself had gone to the environmental authorities to alert them to the ecological damage that this road would cause. And that the company finally gave up due to issues of ground instability.
He clarified that he had asked the TPCH for its Environmental Impact File to know exactly whether or not it would affect El Cascajo, but that until that moment they had refused to give it to him or to the entity in charge of issuing environmental certifications in Peru.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
[Marino]: If you submit that project to me, have no doubt that I will read every word of it. I even have in the group . . . we have three environmental lawyers.
[David]: And if they found something that could affect the wetland, he would be the first to demand all the proper procedures to prevent it from becoming polluted again. Up to that point, it was based solely on the plans the TPCH had published on the Internet . . .
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
[Marino]: As far as I have seen, it will not affect at all what corresponds to me: water pollution and biodiversity. Is El Cascajo going to be lost? It will never be lost because I’m the first person who is going to be standing there.
[David]: In 2015, Marino made a donation to Chancay of clothing and necessary work tools, not only for the maintenance of El Cascajo, but other wetlands in the area. But around the same time, he decided to get away from all the discussions related to the wetland and move on to other projects.
According to the Committee, now they are the ones who voluntarily take care of the wetland. So far, there is no evidence involving Marino with the mega port. The coordinator, William Jurado, accepts that Marino was the first to start cleaning the wetland, and thanks to that cleanup, after several years of having a green lagoon caused by the lettuce, they can now see the mirror of water.
Currently, there is still the need to solve the problems of pollution, of wastewater that continues to reach the lagoon, garbage that is still being dumped around the wetland. Problems that have caused the lettuce to grow back and cover the water.
Marino knows that.
[Marino]: Except that right now it isn’t advisable for us to go in to recover it because it’s kind of political, and whatever I do they can take the wrong way. I’d rather . . . have a conversation with the . . . with the new administration and ask, “Do you want our support?” Or receive an invitation letter from them.
[David]: He does not close the doors completely.
[Marino]: Of course it causes us some outrage, but we try not to be so negative, you know? Because if they call us to recover the wetland again, that wetland now—with all the technology we have—even if it’s completely full of lettuce, can be recovered in less than three months.
[David]: And that’s because, as we already mentioned, his experience recovering natural habitats has increased a lot since then.
That same year, 2015, he finished his studies in Japan and returned permanently to Peru to put into practice what he had learned. In 2017 he created the company TTT Grupo Morikawa, to devote himself to projects for the decontamination of bodies of liquid, air and soils.
Like so many things in Peru, and like so many cases of ecological damage, the case of El Cascajo, or Santa Rosa wetland, is complicated. I mean, it bounced back, then became polluted again, or perhaps never fully recovered, depending on who you believe. What is certain is that the lettuce has once again covered most of the lagoon.
However, several environmental organizations have sought for some time to declare it an Environmental Conservation Area. That would give it strict and special protection at the national level. In addition, it would force the local government to recover it with public resources.
The good news is that in September 2020, this was achieved. Now that it is an Environmental Conservation Area, it will be much more difficult for any person or company, whether a mega port, an aqueduct or a breeding farm, to destroy the wetland.
[Daniel]: Among Marino’s projects in Peru is the recovery of the Pacucha Wetland in Andahuaylas and the Huacachina oasis in Ica. In 2017, together with his team, he did the Reto Quince Titicaca, a project to recover the most polluted area of the interior bay of Puno on Lake Titicaca. They showed positive results after fifteen days, and his intention was to prove to the authorities that it is possible to achieve the complete recovery of the lake.
Aside from that, he has projects in Mexico and Paraguay, where he plans to decontaminate Lake Ypacaraí.
David Trujillo is a producer for Radio Ambulante. He lives in Bogotá.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and me. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri and Remy Lozano, with music by Remy. Andrea López Cruzado did the fact-checking.
We want to thank Joseph Zárate for his great help with this story.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Jorge Caraballo, Aneris Casassus, Victoria Estrada, Xochitl Fabián, Miranda Mazariegos, Barbara Sawhill, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Desirée Yépez.
Fernanda Guzmán is our editorial intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
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