For folks living in the charming beach community of Atafona on the Brazilian coast north of Rio de Janeiro, there's a sense that the ocean is not only alive -- it's hungry, too. Since the quaint village was first established in the 1950s, hundreds of homes have literally been swallowed up by the ocean as sea levels rise at an alarming rate. Throughout the shrinking town, ominous signs hint at its uncertain future; "Jesus is coming back!!!" warned a message painted on the side of one tall building before it collapsed into the sea. Still, many residents are refusing to budge.According to researchers, the ocean has been advancing inland over the last fifty years -- at a rate of close to ten feet a year. In that time, folks in Atafona have witnessed 14 city blocks disappear beneath the waves, taking with it some 200 houses and shops. Each year, as the sea level continue to rise, a new batch of residents are put on the forefront of a losing battle -- but many refuse to move, despite their grim future.
"I will not defy the sea, but I have put my faith and trust in the hands of God," says Sonia Ferreira, a retiree who's lived in Atafona for the last 13 years. In the past few seasons, her home has become beach-front property. She describes how a neighboring structure was overtaken by the sea, in an interview with Brazilian media.
It was a building full of history. It had a supermarket, office space ... But the sea was slowly eating away underneath, and we could only watch the disaster. Two blocks in front of my house came to be taken.
While many of the faithful in Atafona turn to prayer during what must seem like apocalyptic times for their little beach town, for researchers studying the encroaching sea the implications of this phenomena are only slightly less troubling.
For folks like Sonia Ferreira, whose livelihoods are on the front line of a changing planet, the end may be nigh, but their faith doesn't erode so easily. "I love this place," she says. "It is a paradise, a place of tranquility. I will only leave here if God wants me to leave it."
No word yet on the second coming, but soon any trip to Atafona just may require the ability to walk on water.