Effects of a major oil spill in the Galapagos Islands is still unknown after some time

Adrienne Fernandez

Here is a scene to picture: A beautiful pristine shore with calm waves and an abundant supply of sea and animal life.
It is early in the morning and an oil tanker can be seen not too far off from the shore. Now picture this: Out of nowhere, something goes wrong, the oil tanker breaks ground and begins to lose oil at an alarming rate.
As the oil seeps through the breach in the hull and escapes into the water, it begins to overcome the sea life in the surrounding area. Those that can escape onto the shore do, but the others fall victim to the black ooze.
This may sound like a scene out of a horror film, however that is not the case. In fact, scenarios like the one mentioned above are one of the many environmental hazards that plague our Earth today.
On Jan. 16, 2001, the tanker Jessica, which was carrying 160,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 80,000 gallons of petroleum product, ran aground. An estimated 185,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the surrounding fragile ecosystem. This was a result of the tanker’s captain, who admitted to making a wrong turn towards the port while entering Shipwreck Bay outside the harbor of San Cristobal Island.
Since the tanker ran aground, the oil has begun to break up and disperse, covering an area of roughly 1,800 square miles.
As a result of his overconfidence, Captain Tarquino Arevalo can face anywhere from between two to four years in prison for negligence or crimes against the environment, if convicted.
Captain Arevalo said, “I am directly responsible for what happened, responsible for grounding the vessel. That I accept. I recognize my fault until that point … but about the pollution, what can I do?”
The most amazing thing is that with such a fragile ecosystem in place, people can act in such a careless manner. Not until a disaster occurs do people truly realize the importance of proper environmental prevention and protection.
For some, this realization is never made, and areas such as the Galapagos are thought of as just another fishing zone. According to Pedro Mieles, “The sea is our sustenance. Because of this spill we are left without work…we have nothing to do. We are immobilized.”
Although the cleanup has begun, environmentalists are still unaware as to what affects the oil spill and the chemicals used to clean it will have on algae, the primary food source of the Galapagos’s food chain.
I realize that for many, fishing is a source of income and a way of life. However, if we do not protect and preserve what we have, our way of life as we know it may not last for long.
If the proper precautions are made in advance, situations such as the Galapagos spill could have been avoided.
According to the EPA, approximately 14,000 oil spills are reported annually. Fourteen thousand spills per year may not seem like a lot, but when broken down, that is approximately 38 spills per day.
Now, although preventative methods have improved over the years, we still have a long way to go before we can expect to see any significant changes.
For those that have the attitude that oil spills do not occur in or around the United States, a closer look at the facts is needed.
During the year 2000, there were five major oil spills in the United States alone. The most damaging of which was the spill that occurred on Nov. 28 in the Mississippi River where close to 567,000 gallons were spilled. A twenty-six mile stretch of the river was closed off in order to clean up the spill. The other four spills occurred in Maryland on April 17, Rhode Island on July 6, South Florida coast on Aug. 8, and Sandy Hook Bay on Sept.14.
Although the location of the spills and the amounts of oil spilled were different, the effects on the environment were roughly the same.
In the end, plant and animal life are injured or killed due to the toxicity of the oil. Not only does oil have the initial impact of smothering plants, animals and small organisms, but it also has adverse long-term effects. Even though much of the oil is cleaned up, there is still a small amount that is left behind to seep into the ground where it remains for years to come.
It is therefore imperative that we do our best to work in conjunction with the oil refineries and companies in order to help cut down on the number of spills that occur. In doing so, we will help to prevent the deaths of plant and animal life along with the needless destruction of the environment.