November 2002 - Oil spill off Spain's NW coast

Fishermen trying to hold back waves of oil with their hands

Never in the history of Spain has an environmental disaster aroused such public outcry, exerted such a political impact or elicited such media coverage as the Prestige oil spill.
Millions of people were glued to the news from the Galician and Cantabrian coast, awestruck by the gravity of the ecological and economic consequences, by the initial negligence in managing the crisis, and by the pictures flooding in of dead birds, of fishermen trying to hold back the waves of oil with their hands, of huge black slicks along one of Europe’s most beautiful coastlines, and of thousands of volunteers struggling with the clean up.

November 2003
The beaches have been pretty much cleaned up and economic compensation has been paid.

In a way, it would be tempting to say that the initial concerns were over-alarmist, or even that local communities actually perversely gained something from the Prestige oil spill.

However, WWF is not so optimistic, and neither is anyone else who understands the marine environment and the fisheries sector.
From an environmental, economic and legal standpoint, the Prestige crisis is far from over.

A decade to recover
From previous experience, we know that some of the affected ecosystems and commercial resources will take over a decade to recover. And in August 2003 we discovered that the spill was much larger than initially estimated (60% larger, making a total of 64,000 tonnes).

Having had five oil slicks in the last three decades, Galicia now stands in the unenviable position of being the world’s top laboratory for studying the long term impacts of this kind of catastrophe.

The positive side
Looking on the positive side, the disaster did arouse an impassioned response from the public at large, the fishing industry, the scientific community and various NGOs. It prompted a more acute awareness, in many sectors, of the vulnerability of our seas.

For WWF, another positive factor is the progress achieved in EU legislation on maritime safety, which has been tightened up substantially in the last twelve months.

Although there still remain many legislative loose ends to tie up, in the process of doing so, we will be ensuring that we are not just passing our problems on to the more defenceless regions of the planet.
 / ©: WWF
The Prestige began to leak large amounts of oil off the Galician coast on 13 November 2002.
© WWF

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