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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Fall 2002   —   Shipping Incidents Spell Disaster for Wildlife

In Newfoundland…

Newfoundland is supposed to be a haven for birds, but of late, it has been anything but as a large number of oil–soaked birds, including gannets, murres and kittiwakes have been washing up on the shores of Cape St. Mary’s, a designated Important Bird Area (IBA)

This disastrous situation has most likely resulted from the illegal dumping practices of a Panamanian bulk carrier which is currently being held in Conception Bay on charges which violate the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, The Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the federal Fisheries Act.

Cape St. Mary’s is located at the entrance to Placentia Bay, and provides nesting for over 30,000 pairs of seabirds. Biologists are very concerned for the thousands of young gannets which have begun to migrate south, fearing many, sick and weakened from their exposure to the pollution, will never be able to complete their journeys.

The practice of illegal dumping is not restricted to this particular vessel, it’s a common practice among vessels in general as it is less costly to dump illegally, than to dispose at regulated dump sites. Even the fines levied against a ship found to be dumping illegally are not severe enough to halt the practice in most cases.

Hopefully however, the severity of the penalties levied against this Panamanian vessel will make ship operators think twice in future before committing this grievous offense.

In South Africa…

A grounded cargo ship off the east coast of South Africa could spell disaster for the fauna and flora of a nearby nature reserve.

The stranded ship has a large crack in the hull which has caused oil to leak badly into the waters surrounding the St. Lucia Nature Reserve. The weather has been fairy good, which has at least kept the vessel relatively intact, however rescuers are concerned that should the weather turn nasty, the already badly damaged ship could completely break apart, spilling the remaining oil. Attempts to refloat the ship have been abandoned for fears of further damaging the vessel, therefore the only solution open at present is to attempt to siphon all the remaining oil from the badly listing ship.

If the oil problem wasn’t severe enough, hundreds of drums of a toxic chemical disappeared into the water when the ship grounded over one week ago. Since then, the drums have completely vanished, and officials are warning residents not to consume any sea products from the affected area.

The habitat of the nature reserve is mainly estuarine, and mangroves are the plants which would be most affected; threatened wildlife includes typical mangrove species such as fiddler crabs, crocodiles, mud skippers and several small species of wading birds. The area also serves as a migration route for a population of humpback whales, and biologists are concerned as whales have begun to arrive in the region. Their hope is that the whales will pass through before the slowly spreading oil slick reaches their migration area.

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