Scientists assess consequences of Spanish oil spill

November 21, 2002

Brussels, 20 Nov 2002

Scientists are concerned about the threat posed by the oil spill in Spain to the Balearic shearwater, a rare seabird that was already facing extinction.

Robin Law, a marine scientist from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) told the BBC that while fish stocks may escape the fuel oil, as it is near the surface, seabirds will be exposed to it when they try to feed. Some 18 species of seabird have already been found oiled by volunteers. The Balearic shearwater has been listed as critically endangered since the number of breeding pairs fell to between 1,750 and 2,125 in the year 2000.

Also under threat are 'filter feeders' said Mr Law. Shellfish such as mussels may either be smothered by the oil as it settles in shallow waters or suffocated by the oil as they attempt to pass the polluted water through their delicate gills and feeding apparatus.

Some scientists believe that the low sea temperature may delay the leakage of oil from the damaged containers, or even cause the oil to solidify.

Damage to the environment may have been less critical had scientists been consulted during attempts to save the ship, the Chief Executive of Smit Salvage, the company which tried to save the ship has also told the BBC. 'We would have preferred to have a proper debate with experts and not with politicians,' Hans van Rooy is reported as having said.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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