Red death: Toxic Brazilian mud reaches Atlantic Ocean (PHOTOS)

An aerial view of the Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, at an area where the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 23, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes
Toxic mud from a collapsed iron mine dam in Brazil has travelled 500 kilometers down the Rio Doce and reached the Atlantic Ocean, threatening endangered leatherback turtles and the river’s other aquatic wildlife.

Brazil’s biggest environmental disaster ever occurred on November 5 when a Samarco iron mine dam collapsed, releasing sixty million cubic meters of toxic waste.

An aerial view of the Rio Doce (Doce River), (bottom) which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, at an area where the river joins the sea (top) on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 23, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

The deadly deluge quickly flooded villages and contaminated rivers in south-eastern Brazil, with 11 people killed and 12 others still reported missing.

A general view the sea (L) and  Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo in Povoacao Village, Brazil, November 22, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

Over the course of the month, the toxic waste travelled more than 500 kilometers downstream to reach the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo.

Seagulls fly near the mouth of Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo, in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 22, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

According to estimates from biologists, it will take some 30 years to clean up the Rio Doce basin after mercury, arsenic, chromium and manganese at levels exceeding human consumption limits were discovered in the red mud.

Men look on from the banks of Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 22, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

The contamination threatens the Comboios nature reserve, which is one of the world’s few regular nesting sites for the endangered leatherback turtle.

A local fisherman working for a company contracted by Samarco mine operator, clears up dead fish found on the beach of Povoacao Village, near the mouth of Rio Doce (Doce River), November 23, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

Fish, loggerhead turtles, whales and dolphins are also in jeopardy as scientists fear the toxic water may reduce oxygen and alter pH levels in the water.

A view of the mud which flooded  Rio Doce (Doce River) after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, is seen on the coast of Espirito Santo, in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 22, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

The iron ore mine owner, Samarco, installed nine kilometers of floating barriers in an attempt to protect the Rio Doce river bank.

An aerial view of the mouth of Rio Doce (Doce River), which was flooded with mud after a dam owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd burst, is seen as the river joins the sea on the coast of Espirito Santo, in Regencia Village, Brazil, November 21, 2015. © Ricardo Moraes

The company also widened the river mouth to speed up the flow of the mud where the toxins are expected to stretch to a wider area and become diluted.
Samarco agreed to pay one billion reais (US$262m) to cover the clean-up costs and compensation.

The mine owner was also fined 250 million reais by Brazil's environmental regulator, with President Dilma Rousseff saying that more penalties may follow from other government bodies.