For months, many activists and biological experts warned about the contamination of Lake Maracaibo, until the Government ordered its decontamination and began work in August. But it won’t be easy, they calculate that it will take the Mermaid Project 381 years to collect the hair needed to achieve this.
On August 29, the Sirena Project launched its first publication on Instagram and quickly became known to Venezuelans, because the reason for its birth was to clean Lake Maracaibo, whose waters flow in the 13,000 square kilometers it occupies. Rico or the island of Jamaica—, not only the crude oil spilled this year but the thousands of barrels per day that fell in 2022; fuel leaks – between 40,000 and 50,000 – recorded from 2010 to 2016; and verdigris that covers 70% of its surface, due to the high concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen generated by, among other things, wastewater discharges.
The project proposes the creation of crude oil absorption devices, based on the use of tubular socks filled with human and animal hair, which due to its oleophilic nature absorbs oils and, in turn, repels water because it is a “highly hydrophobic biosorbent”. University of Technology Sydney in a report in 2018. Arguably, by its nature, this initiative depends on collections and donations from hair salons and individuals.
Amid the inaction of the state, the presentation of a proposal like this, at first glance, seems to be a perfect solution and has caught the attention of citizens. However, a more detailed review of the project shows the obstacles it faces in its implementation.
Selene Esrach, a biologist in Marabina who leads this project, points out that on average a hair salon or barbershop generates about 750 grams per week, so she hopes to collect “19,0000 kilos in 52 weeks ” – that is, one year – starting with the collection of 220 hair styling shops in the country that joined the network to donate the collected hair. There is the first of the problems faced in this project to be successful: while trying to gather that amount, the oil keeps flowing, which means more and more hair is needed.
So, considering that a thousand barrels of crude oil fall into Lake Maracaibo every day, that is, 365,000 a year, there is a total of about 58 million liters that are poured every year, because one a barrel contains 159 liters. A little more than seven million kilos of hair are needed to “clean it”, because, as he explained, one kilo of hair absorbs 8 liters of oil.
By making the calculations according to the necessary flow shown by the environmentalist, it is possible to collect a sufficient amount for 381 years.
The above estimates are made from data provided by scientists and environmental organizations such as Azul Ambientalista. There have been no official oil spill figures for at least seven years.