Galapagos spill – disaster appears to have been averted

It appears that wildlife unique to the remote Galapagos Islands may have been spared from the effects of an oil spill of at least 185,000 gallons (840,000 litres).

As edie was published, it appeared that the unique bio-diversity of the islands, lying some 600 miles (1,000 km) west of the Ecuadorean mainland, had been spared from a huge slick from a tanker which ran aground on 16 January. It had been feared that endemic species would be wiped out after an Ecuadorian diesel tanker ran onto a reef and broke up 500 metres off San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the archipelago, international media reported.

Disaster only appears to have been averted because of rough weather conditions dispersing the fuel and taking it out to sea, away from San Cristobal, which remained unaffected. However diesel has begun washing up on beaches 80km (50 miles) away, despite efforts to contain it with oil dispersants and a ring of floating booms. It is thought fuel has reached three islands in the archipelago and so far affected some 40 sea birds, 10 sea lions and all invertebrates living near the tanker. However unique species, such as the world’s only marine iguana, have, as yet, been spared.

With the help of an international team of recovery workers, attempts will be made to float the 835-tonne tanker off the reef when weather permits. The captain of the oil tanker has been arrested and could face up to five years in prison if successfully prosecuted for negligence or crimes against the environment. The captain accepted the blame for the accident, saying that he mistook a buoy for a lighthouse, causing the tanker to run aground.

The conservation group, WWF, called on the Ecuadorian government to “urgently approve and apply a series of regulations to ensure effective implementation of the Special Conservation Law for the archipelago” to prevent future accidents.

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