Oil spill to require lengthy eco-monitoring – Australia
17 March 2009
by Adam Morton and Cosima Marriner
ECOLOGICAL fallout from the Queensland oil spill will be felt for months and could include albinism in mangrove plants and reduced fish populations, scientists warn.
But while experts yesterday called for long-term environmental monitoring, they also said early signs suggested damage from the 250-tonne spill was not as great as first feared.
About 30 animals — mostly waterbirds, some sea snakes and a turtle — have needed care due to the spill from the cargo ship Pacific Adventurer in cyclonic seas last Wednesday.
Ravi Naidu, managing director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment , said the spill could be toxic for small organisms and some fish. It would take “many, many months” to clean up, he said.
But Moreton Research Station marine biologist Kathy Townsend said Australia had been spared widespread animal suffering associated with large oil spills such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. She said there were three reasons for this outcome: the spill was comparatively small, it was of unrefined diesel fuel — not thick crude oil — and stormy weather had helped break the fuel up naturally.
“When you are looking at some parts of the ecosystem, like pippis and ghost crabs that are living on the sandy shore, they are going to be affected because their whole home has been smothered in oil,” Dr Townsend said.
“I don’t want to belittle the situation, but it is nowhere near as bad as it potentially could have been.”
Simon Baltais, president of the Wildlife Protection Society, said many migratory birds had already headed north for the winter and dugongs, bottlenose dolphins and turtles in Moreton Bay had been largely protected as the island’s ocean coast wore most of the spill.
But he said monitoring of local ecosystems would need to continue for years. If hydrocarbons from the spill reached mangroves, they would drain colour from green fruit and prevent plants from photosynthesising, eventually killing them.
“There potentially could be an impact on fish stocks if oil made its way into the food chain,” Mr Baltais said.
University of Queensland marine science professor John Pandolfi said the spill could limit growth and reproduction in coral on pristine Flinders Reef, north of Moreton Island.
As of yesterday morning, more than 50 per cent of the 74 kilometres of coast polluted by the oil spill had been cleaned up. But fears remain over 31 missing containers of fertiliser.
The Federal Government yesterday called in navy minehunter HMAS Yarra to find the containers of ammonium nitrate, which could cause algal bloom in high concentrations.
Maritime Safety Queensland believes the containers have sunk 150 metres to the ocean floor. Three separate investigations are being conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Maritime Safety Queensland and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. They will look at the ship’s seaworthiness, how the containers were stowed and circumstances surrounding the accident.
The captain has surrendered his passport and the ship will remain in port in Brisbane for at least two weeks as the investigations are carried out.
Source: The Age