Marine Fuel Spill Response

The Argentine supply ship, Bahia Paraiso, ran aground and sank in January 1989 near Palmer Station, Antarctica. Although few people were injured, the accident spilled about 200,000 gallons of diesel and jet fuel...The initial spill killed as much as 50% of the mollusks and marine algae in the intertidal community...Only a few hundred of the area's 30,000 adult seabirds were observed dead at the time of the spill, but adults bringing food to the nest site exposed their young to fuel-contaminated food. The most severe impact appeared to be in the cormorant colonies, where nearly 100% of the chicks died in a few months after the spill.

Continued studies on various components of the ecosystem over the past 7 years have shown different levels of impact. The intertidal community has been recovering. While the Adelie penguin colonies closest to the spill site no longer exist, changes in overall population numbers remain within the range of natural variability. Active nests of cormorants near the spill have decreased by more 60%, while those away from the spill have remained constant. A steady decline in active kelp gull nests has persisted, suggesting that the initial damage to its mollusk food source drove the bird populations down.

...Long-term studies are necessary for understanding the impact of fuel spills on different ecosystem components...Should future spills occur in the Arctic or the Antarctic, this project will provide valuable information on ecosystem impact and recovery. In recognition of its role following the spill, in 1993 the U.S. Antarctic Program received a Gold Medal Clean Seas International Award from the government of Malta "for praiseworthy efforts in conjunction with the preservation of a marine environment."

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