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News > Latin America

Peru Oil Spill May Have Damaged Seabed, Scientist Warns

  • Bird contaminated with oil spilled by the Repsol company, Peru, Jan. 2022.

    Bird contaminated with oil spilled by the Repsol company, Peru, Jan. 2022. | Photo: Twitter/ @cover_images

Published 28 January 2022 (16 hours 6 minutes ago)
Opinion

As the oil floats, it forms a black layer on the surface that sunlight cannot penetrate, and when that happens, phytoplankton that need solar energy fail to receive it and begin to die.

Peru's coast of Callao has been blighted by an oil spill that blackened beaches and smothered birds with 6,000 barrels of crude, but less clear is the potentially significant damage caused to the seabed. The coast's recovery from the environmental damage remains uncertain, Luis Icochea, director of the Department of Fisheries and Environment Management at the La Molina National Agrarian University.

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"What we can see will suddenly be restored, that is, the surface of the sea and the beach. But what has happened at the bottom of the sea? We have to carry out a study and see if there is marine life," said Icochea.

The Jan. 15 oil spill occurred when a ship was unloading oil at the La Pampilla refinery operated by Spanish company Repsol in Ventanilla, a district in the port of Callao, affecting about 1.8 square km of coastline and 7.1 square km of sea, according to the Environmental Assessment and Control Agency under the Environment Ministry.

The true danger "is that as the oil floats, it forms a black layer on the surface that sunlight cannot penetrate, and when that happens," creatures such as phytoplankton that need solar energy fail to receive it and begin to die, Icochea explained.

Later, when "dead sediment settles," it can cause the "mortality of everything nearby," be it fish or other marine species, the specialist in oceanography and marine pollution added. Species such as shellfish, clams, scallops and others that filter the water are especially vulnerable because "what they are going to consume is going to harm them," he said.

That scale of damage has not yet occurred, but the impact could widen "if we don't fight and don't try to recover" the oil as soon as possible, Icochea said, adding that institutions and universities should test marine samples to determine the degree of contamination.

While the area where the oil spilled is not the most abundant in fishing, small-scale fishermen who fish with hooks from the beach or have small boats with a small net, have been affected. What remains certain is that marine creatures in this area have been affected," Icochea stressed.

The Peruvian government says it is working "head on" to restore the coastline, while Repsol claims to be "closely collaborating" by making more than 2,000 people and 73 units of heavy machinery available for the cleanup. Still, while the extent of the environmental impact remains unknown, "the damage has already been done," Icochea lamented.

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