Grounded Ship Threaten Pristine Environ

Monday, January 22, 2001
The global conservation body WWF called on Sunday for limits to shipping off Ecuador's Galapagos islands where oil pouring from a grounded tanker is threatening some of the world's rarest land and sea animals and birds. A statement from the Swiss-based World Wide Fund for Nature said the spill could have "a deep and lasting impact" on the creatures of Galapagos which were observed by British naturalist Charles Darwin as he developed the theory of evolution 165 years ago. The WWF said it was "crucial for the Ecuadorean government and the international shipping community to consider designating the waters around these islands as a particularly sensitive sea area." Sian Pullen, the WWF's widely respected shipping specialist, said "such measures would help to ensure a much higher level of protection for this unique area of the world." The damaged vessel, the Ecuadorean-registered Jessica, ran aground last Tuesday half a mile (800 m) from the archipelago's main port in its easternmost San Cristobal island while its way to service an Ecuadorean navy operation and a private tour boat operator. The spill has already affected animals including sea lions and pelicans and volunteers are on standby to clean up and rescue them, an ecologist said. Admiral Gonzalo Vega, director of Ecuador's Merchant Marine in Guayaquil, said on Saturday the spill began late on Friday when a pipe in the ship's machine room burst, fouling waters near the islands that boast unique marine and land creatures such as iguanas and giant tortoises. Vega said a second and potentially more harmful leak occurred early on Saturday, when about 1,000 gallons of a heavy fuel called IFO 120 began to spill from the craft. "That (the IFO 120) is the dangerous part. The worst thing that would happen is that the boat would burst entirely and it would all spill," he told Reuters. The "Jessica" was carrying 160,000 gallons of diesel and about 80,000 gallons of IFO 120 when the accident occurred. The Galapagos Islands, administered by Ecuador, are 600 miles (1,000 km) off the coast in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Galapagos National Park preserves the creatures and their natural habitat, where they have evolved for thousands of years in isolation and with little human intervention. Among them are different types of finches -- not affected by the spill -- the variety of whose beaks led Darwin, until then a believer in the idea that all life on the planet was created by a deity in an unchangeable form, to understand how living creatures evolved to survive in their particular environment. - (Reuters)

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