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NGOs count environmental cost of spill

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

Gibraltar’s environmental groups have called for a “full and public” investigation into Friday’s oil spill, as they raised concern about its impact on the marine environment.

“Oil spills can have a devastating impact on a wide variety of marine life; pelagic, coastal and intertidal alike,” the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society said.

“Furthermore, they cause long-lasting detrimental effects on food chains and species’ biologies.”

“Sadly and predictably, oiled seabirds are already being reported. These are always the most visual casualties of these destructive events and, even after intervention, survivorship of oiled birds is low.”

GONHS called on the Port of Gibraltar to carry out a “full and public investigation” into the cause of the spill, “which should have been contained if procedures were followed”.

“If Gibraltar wants to be seen to lead on environmental matters then we cannot afford such accidents,” GONHS said.

The Environmental Safety Group said it was “shocked and saddened” by the impact of the spill and echoed calls for a full investigation to establish the extent of the spill and level of supervision in place during the bunkering operation.

“The coordinated action by the port, Department of the Environment and different entities involved in the command centre, has helped remove the worst of the oil spill although there still remain a few significant hotspots,” the ESG said.

“These include the bathing pavilion area among others. Land based cleaning will follow but it will be some time before the impacts from this oil spill are fully known and pollution caused by it, disappear entirely.”

“The threats to birds and sea life are obvious and the ESG demands that every effort is made by the authorities to establish precisely what happened following the apparent valve failure.”

“With the significant season for diving birds underway the ESG is particularly concerned by this spill and would like to hear about all the steps that will be taken to ensure this does not happen again.”

“We would like to know the volume of oil that was leaked and the speed in which the oil contingency response was initiated.”

“Finally the group expects that ‘polluting paying regulations’ will be fully applied once the investigation is completed to cover the costs of the clean-up and impact on the environment which will continue for some time given the very challenging nature of cleaning up an oil spill.”

For it part, marine conservation group The Nautilus Project said it was “deeply saddened” by the spil and its impact on the environment.

“Oil leaks can affect locally endangered dolphins by being inhaled as they come up to breathe,” the group said.
“Longer term these animals suffer repressed immune functions and reproductive capabilities.”

“The damage to our bird life is also harrowing as many may have witnessed already on social media.”

“Fish, shellfish, sponges and invertebrates will not be exposed straight away but eventually as the oil starts to mix with the water column.”

“On exposure adult fish typically experience reduced growth, enlarged livers, changes in heart and respiration rates, fin erosion and reproductive impairment.”

“Fish eggs and larvae suffer the worst effects which could impact species population numbers.”

The group said that as long as bunkering operations were conducted in British waters in the Bay of Gibraltar, Gibraltar will not be spared such spills “infrequent as they may be”.

TNP welcomed the clean-up operation and that of the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic, which is helping to clean up contaminated birds.

The Department of the Environment and Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic are working to attempt to save any birds that are found oiled.

Any such birds observed should be reported to 58009620.

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