Timor Oil Spill Capped But The Damage Is DoneAustralia, November 3rd
WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, applauds the successful capping of the West Atlas oil leak off north west Australia. Unfortunately, the ecological impact of millions of litres of oil spilled into these tropical waters is likely to persist for years to come. These impacts will include direct health consequences for whales and dolphins which were directly affected by the oil via inhaling its vapour or ingesting the oil itself, as well as more subtle impacts on the ecosystem which may ultimately affect cetacean prey species.
In August WDCS called for urgent, independent and transparent monitoring. After ten weeks of uncontrolled and continuing oil and gas spill the Government’s own Rapid Assessment of the Impacts of the Montara Oil Leak on Birds, Cetaceans and Marine Reptiles positively identified at least 4 species of cetaceans (462 individuals), 23 species of birds (2801 individuals), 2 species of turtles (25 individuals) and 4 species of sea snakes (62 individuals) during a five day survey. As migratory species continue to move into the region in the coming months the oil slick may have an increasing impact.
“Capping the oil spill is good news, but the damage is done” says Dr Mike Bossley, WDCS Australasian Managing Director and explains “Marine animals can ingest oil-derived toxic compounds either directly from the water or with their food. Poisonous vapors can also be inhaled by whales and dolphins and especially when the volatile components evaporate into the air from freshly spilled oil. There will also be chronic longer-term effects of oil entering food-chain potentially affecting both them and their prey. Much of this will happen far from sight and if whales or dolphins are killed or otherwise affected – days, months and years into the future - we are unlikely to be witness to this.”
Conservationists are still very concerned about the commitment of both the Australian Government and the industry and seek clarification: “The Monitoring Plan in discussion is silent on the duration of commitment the Government has secured from industry. For all we can determine, they may monitor for a year and then walk away. A renegotiated plan must extend monitoring for at least ten years” said Dr Bossley. “The real work in relation to the oil spill is only just beginning.”
“We still don’t see the commitment we expect from the Australian Government. If they were serious about mitigating the threats of oil spills they would immediately freeze all new oil and gas exploration applications; develop much stronger conditions and controls over all oil and gas rig and shipping activities including contingency plans before approvals are given; and identify and fully protect all whale and dolphin critical habitats in a network of marine sanctuaries before any oil and gas acreage is released again” Dr Bossley concluded.Reference:Rapid Assessment of the Impacts of the Montara Oil Leak on Birds, Cetaceans and Marine ReptilesMonitoring Plan for Montara Well Release Timor Sea