Oil spilled from a ship that ran aground last Tuesday just a half mile off Ecuador's Galapagos Islands is threatening the fauna that Charles Darwin made famous. The 144,000 gallon-leak of diesel and bunker fuel that occurred near the easternmost island of San Cristobal has already claimed the lives of pelicans, boobies and sea lions, and the film is moving west, toward the other islands. Indeed, Ecuador declared it a national emergency yesterday.
The Galapagos Islands, situated some 600 miles off the Ecuadoran coast, house hundreds of native species, giant tortoises and iguanas among them, that have evolved for thousands of years in isolation. In order to protect the sea-faring species, researchers and volunteers have set up rescue sites for cleaning fur and feathers, and erected barriers to prevent animals from entering the oily water, according to a Reuters report. Meanwhile, a 10-member U.S. Coast Guard team arrived Sunday to help remove the 30,000 gallons of fuel remaining on board the grounded ship. After that,] they will turn their attention toward containing the spill, which occupied an area of about 390 square miles as of late Sunday.
The World Wildlife Fund, which has warned that the spill could have lasting effects on the Galapagos creatures, is urging the Ecuadorean government and the international shipping community to consider formally protecting the waters around the islands. "It is a disaster," Environmental Ministry spokesperson Mauro Cerbino told Reuters. "It may be one of the Galapagos' worst disasters."