Credit: AFP / Paul Harris
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BRISBANE: A 250-tonne oil spill off Queensland's coast last Wednesday could cause long-term problems for Moreton Bay's ecosystem, experts warn.
More than 70km of beaches on Moreton Island, Bribie Island and parts of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, were coated in oil spilled from the cargo ship Pacific Adventurer.
The spill occurred when 31 shipping containers fell off the ship and punctured its hull during rough weather caused by Cyclone Hamish.
More than 450 workers have been deployed to clean up the mess, said Robert Hoge, a spokesperson for the Deputy Premier's office.
The clean-up of Bribie Island and Sunshine Coast beaches is expected to be complete by the end of Monday, Hoge said, but the more delicate Moreton Island, where rakes and shovels are being used rather than earth-moving equipment, will take weeks to finish.
The Pacific Adventurer's insurance company will be required to pay the clean-up costs, which are expected to run into the millions, Hoge said.
Ravi Naidu, the Director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment, said that the spill was likely to disturb Moreton Bay's ecosystem in the long term.
"The problem with oil is that it doesn't dilute, and it doesn't mix; it generally floats, and this can lead to long-term contamination of the coastal region and sea water," Naidu said.
The oil was likely to kill many of the invertebrates living along the shoreline, with knock-on effects for birds and mammals higher up the food chain, said Geoff Dutton, a spokesperson for the Australian Veterinary Association.
"Many of the toxins can have a bio-accumulative effect," he said. "Birds and mammals at the end of the food chain could have larger amounts of toxins within their bodies in subsequent years."
The oil would also cause more immediate problems for birds, Dutton said, because fuel oil breaks down the waterproofing oil in feathers and allows them to become waterlogged and heavy, which can make flying difficult and lead to hypothermia.
The birds can also develop liver and gastrointestinal problems if they swallow oil while preening their feathers, he said.
The Courier Mail has also reported that Queensland's seafood industry may be under threat from the spill.
"In that area, about 100 boats fish about 700 tonnes of prawns each year and most of that happens in the next two months," Neil Green, president of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association told the paper.