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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Winter 2003   —   Prestige Oil Spill Threatens Habitat

Two weeks after the oil tanker Prestige broke and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Spain, the country continues its cleanup and recovery efforts. This week, a new slick, larger than the original one, threatened shellfish beds and an important nature reserve on the coast of Galicia. A mini–sub was scheduled to dive to the ocean floor to assess the situation and verify if the tanker was still leaking fuel.

The vessel was carrying a total of 77,000 tons of fuel when it broke apart and sank. Earlier efforts to tow the ship out to sea failed; many believe these misguided attempts actually hastened the tankerís demise.

The disaster has impacted both wildlife and humans as well. Over 4000 local fisherman have been put out of work under a fishing ban covering over 300 miles of coastline. Beaches up and down the coast have been despoiled and countless oil-soaked birds have been found, many dead, many near death. Fears have also been expressed about the environmentally sensitive wetland and coastal areas around the Cape of Corrubedo, an area that serves as important habitat for sea mammals, reptiles, amphibians, migratory birds and abundant plant life.

Earlier this week residents held protests to condemn Spainís slow reaction to the original spill, and to express outrage over the lack of concern the Spanish government seems to have regarding protection of regional waters. The Prestige was an old single hull tanker, in poor condition. Many feel this ship was no longer seaworthy. Several countries have banned the presence of single hull ships in their waters, but not Spain.

Questions over how much oil was still leaking from the tanker would hopefully be answered after the mini–sub completed its dives. Hopes were that the fuel would congeal at near–freezing temperatures.

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