West Atlas oil spill to affect marine life for years to come



Oil spill

Credit: WWF

Sea snake in slick

A sea snake swims through the slick.

Credit: WWF

Close up of oily water

Credit: WWF

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As fire has engulfed the leaking West Atlas oil rig, further complicating the environmental catastrophe, a recent report from WWF suggests marine life off the Kimberly coastline is under huge threat from the spill.

The report findings have revealed many marine species are in the slick area, including two species of marine turtles already threatened by extinction.

"Wildlife is dying and hundreds if not thousands of dolphins, sea birds and sea snakes are being exposed to toxic oil," said WWF-Australia's Director of Conservation, Gilly Llewellyn, in a statement.

"It's a stark contrast to comments made [previously] the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association that claimed our survey found no evidence of harm to marine life [which] appears to be an attempt to sweep this environmental disaster under the carpet," she said.

"The critical issue is the long term impact of this slick on a rich marine ecosystem, taking into consideration the magnitude, extent and duration of the event," Llewellyn continued.

Satellite images show a 25,000 square kilometre slick that is still spreading across the ocean surface, with the rig having been leaking for 10 weeks and spewing about 400 barrels of oil a day into the waters.

"We know that oil can be a slow and silent killer," said Llewellyn. "Impacts from the Exxon Valdez disaster are still being seen 20 years later, so we can expect this environmental disaster will continue to unfold for years to come."

Indeed, the pollution potential of the spill was realised at the weekend when the rig caught fire. This puts a new strain on the atmosphere as thick smoke surrounds the area.

Marine biologist Euan Harvey, from the University of Western Australia, said that as the oil enters the food chain and many creatures accumulate toxic substances in their tissues, the possible long term effects were also very concerning.

"What effects there are of dolphins, whales, sea snakes and other [creatures] that surface in [the slick] and are forced to breath in the oil fumes we don't know," he said.

This means even if marine animals survive the initial trauma of the spill, their long term health, growth and reproduction could be compromised, leading to population decline.

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