Death toll of seabirds in Peru oil spill continues to grow

Lima, Feb 2 (EFE).- Peru’s Sernanp environmental protection agency said Wednesday that its response teams are still finding dead seabirds covered in oil in the wake of the Jan. 15 accident that spilled 10,396 barrels of crude into the Pacific Ocean.

Besides maintaining a register of the dead birds, the teams are “rescuing those that are seriously affected by the oil and we take them to the National Forest and Wildlife Service of Peru, which has set up an area for veterinary attention,” Sernanp investigator Roberto Gutierrez told Efe.

The agency is carrying out daily surveys in the Islotes Pescadores (Fishermen’s Islands) natural preserve in the Ancon district, 40 km (25 mi) from Lima.

Since Jan. 18, Sernanp has counted 170 seabirds that died as a result of the disaster at the La Pampilla refinery in Callao, the port city adjacent to the capital.

The oil spill occurred when freak waves from a tsunami-triggering volcanic eruption near the faraway island nation of Tonga rocked the Mare Doricum tanker as it was unloading nearly 1 million barrels of crude.

Measuring the impact of the spill on the environment is a massive challenge “that will take a long time and is complex,” Gutierrez said.

“There are effects of the accident that aren’t visible now and will be later, especially the presence of heavy metals and toxins in the bodies of animals, as it is already leading to poisoning of birds that are consuming contaminated water and fish,” he said.

Sernanp has brought 22 marine birds, including gannets, cormorants and penguins to veterinarians for treatment. And the agency warns that the damage from the spill threatens to drive a “local extinction” of sea otters, an endangered species.

“But along with mammals and birds, the environmental tragedy affects crustaceans, arthropods, conchs, clams and sea urchins, to name a few examples,” Gutierrez told Efe.

The crude spread across 11.9 sq km (4.59 sq mi) of water and beaches, according to the Peruvian government. EFE pbc/dr

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