Lima, Peru: Comparison to the Urbanized Chesapeake

The Chesapeake semester team and I arrived in Lima, Peru on Friday, October 18th after a smooth travel day of sitting in reclinable chairs in the sky. For readers who don’t necessarily know what we are getting into I would like to give an idea of what the writing to come will be about. In the posts from this journey I will be sharing my experiences but focusing on major themes and intersections presented in several of the unique locations we visit, addressing the different environmental settings encountered along the way. During this journey we are going to six major locations in Peru including Lima, Paracas, Punta San Juan, Cuzco, Parque de la Papa (Potato park), and Machu Picchu. Our goal for this South American expedition is to have a comparative study of the Chesapeake Bay, finding the similarities and differences in the social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural aspects of both regions. The Peru assignment is three observational posts, three soundscapes, and two comparative entries.

The first thing that struck me about Lima was how incredibly similar it looked to my former hometown of Doha, Qatar on the other side of the planet in the Persian Gulf. Aside from having the exact same airport, large buses to take passengers to the arrival terminal, and an over capacity parking lot, the city itself was a spitting image of Doha on a much larger scale. The closely situated apartments and villas with flat rooftops, the dense and hectic traffic, sand and dust covered walls amidst the grey overcast sky that rarely falls with rain brought me back several years to the place where I grew up, but I couldn’t have been farther away. Lima is a city of 9 million people living in the desert on the pacific coast of South America. Doha is a city of around 1 million in the desert country of Qatar and is surrounded by the Gulf Peninsula in the Middle East. Both cities have many similarities in problems with urbanization, resource exploitation, and stresses of population growth. The reason I compare Doha to Lima is to stress the impacts of urbanization globally. In the Chesapeake bay, these same problems are also very prevalent.

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Pacific Ocean, Lima, Peru                                                               Chester River, Maryland, US

With growing urban communities on the shores of the Bay, the pollution brought on by the concentrated populations is similar to that faced in Peru. Where the difference lies is in the way this pollution is managed. In Lima, there are no waste water treatment plants and the sewer system is a strait pipe system that directs waste into the Pacific Ocean (a fun fact that is scarcely recognized by the many surfers along the coast of Lima).
The Chesapeake used to be a giant cesspool of human and animal waste coming into the bay from the watershed and rivers. The pollution eventually drained into the ocean, but with a urban population boom since the industrial revolution, the waters were becoming such a repulsive sewer system that infrastructure became necessary. However, the initiative for clean water in the bay didn’t start until President Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. Gradually the waters of the bay have become cleaner (Baltimore’s formerly disastrous Patuxent for example), but the stresses on the bay’s ecology from over14 million people living in the watershed are substantial. Of the 14 million watershed inhabitants, 75% live in urban areas like Washington D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis, and Norfolk, to name a few on the waters most directly flowing into the bay without filtering through the nutrient sponge that is the watershed itself. The majority of cities in the Chesapeake line the shoresof the major rivers of the bay.

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Baltimore Harbor 1850’s

Since Chesapeake bay is an estuary, the waste accumulates more rapidly than it is drained into the ocean. Lima is a coastal city, so waste that is put directly into the ocean doesn’t hang around like it does in the tidewater of the Chesapeake. The time it takes for any body of water to flush its volume is called residence time. This is a measure of how well an aquatic system can handle waste that is put into it. Lima would seem to have the advantage of the Humboldt current moving water from South to North up the Pacific coast of South America. Although this could shorten the residence time along the coast of Lima, the drainage of the city is so close to the coast that the waste isn’t pulled out into the ocean by the full force of the current.

The Chesapeake doesn’t have the same means of drainage, but it is drained through the sameprocess. Essentially salt water from the Atlantic comes into the bay on the left side of the bay’s mouth, while water brackish water moves out of the bay on the right side of the mouth. This clockwise movement of water is because of the Coriolis effect. The counter clockwise movement of water in the Southern Hemisphere is the reason for the Humboldt current. In this regard, Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Peru experience drainage through a similar process.

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Urbanization of the Chesapeake bay and Lima, Peru, has resulted in very similar problems that have been managed in very different ways. The negative effects on the environment from population growth are linked to human waste, but also to the byproducts of commercial enterprise and industrial progress that can be directly associated with urban development. In our next location, I explore the commercial fishery of the Anchoveta in Paracas, and compare it to the Menhaden fishery in Chesapeake bay.

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