Large oil spill in the Philippines threatens marine ecosystem | WWF
Large oil spill in the Philippines threatens marine ecosystem

Posted on 17 August 2006

An oil tanker that sank in the Philippines last week is leaking tonnes of fuel, affecting the local marine and coastal ecosystems.
Manila, the Philippines – An oil tanker that sank in the Philippines last week is leaking tonnes of fuel, affecting the local marine and coastal ecosystems.

The M/V Solar I, chartered by Petron, the Philippines’ largest oil refiner, was carrying 2.4 million litres of oil to the southern island of Mindanao when it went down in unusually rough waters off Guimaras Island, several hundred kilometres south of the capital, Manila.

To date, 200,000 litres of oil have leaked from the tanker, contaminating a 24km2 area. The oil slick has already reached the coastal towns of Nueva Valencia and Jordan on Guimaras Island, as well as Villadolid, Pulupandan and Bago on Negros Island. The spill is heading up through the Guimaras Strait.

The Guimaras Strait is one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country, as well as a popular tourist destination. It is home to pristine white sand beaches, several marine sanctuaries and unspoiled coral reefs and mangrove forests.

The Philippines coast guard is calling this the worst oil spill in the country’s history. According to officials, 1,000ha of mangrove forests have been affected, including parts of the Taclong Island Sanctuary, a feeding and breeding ground for fish and other species.

“Oil spills are most destructive when they reach the shoreline,” said Abbie Ramos of WWF-Philippines. “Critical habitats such as coral reefs and mangrove forests are being affected and will take years to repair.”

Threatened species such as dugong, green and hawksbill turtles, and several cetacean species can also be found along the Strait.

“The area is tremendously rich in marine life,” added Dr Jose Ingles, WWF-Philippines coordinator for the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. “A spill of this proportion is simply catastrophic.”

The coast guard has sent oil spill response teams from Manila and Batangas and doing all they can to clean up the leak.

WWF hopes a national oil spill contingency plan that includes all stakeholders — coastguard, oil industry, local fishermen and coastal communities — will help pool resources in an effort to form rapid response teams to deal with any future oil spills throughout the country.

In addition, as extreme weather events may very well be part of our future, WWF is seeking new standards for transport of hazardous cargo in rough weather, and current shipping routes should be reviewed and new options considered in order to avoid particularly sensitive marine areas.

END NOTES:

• The Guimaras oil spill is the second such incident in the Philippines in the last eight months. In December 2005, a power barge ran aground on the nearby coast of Antique, dumping 364,000 litres of bunker oil. This oil spill severely polluted 40km of Antique’s coastline and decimated more than 230ha of pristine mangrove forest. Rehabilitation costs are estimated at US$ 2 million, and clean up efforts have not yet been completed.

• WWF has been working in the Guimaras Strait area for several years to promote sustainable coastal management. In 2004, WWF-Philippines facilitated the completion of participatory coastal resources assessments covering a 54km coastline and 37,187ha of municipal waters in the four towns of the Northern Guimaras Strait, as well as developed a programme for the sustainable management of the Strait’s blue crab fishery.

For further information:
Gregg Yan, Media Officer
WWF-Philippines
Tel: +63 2 920 7923
E-mail: gyan@wwf.org.ph

Dr Jose Ingles, Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Coordinator
WWF-Philippines
E-mail: ingles.jose@gmail.com

Oil spill of sunken tanker Prestige on Spain's Galician Coast.
© WWF / Raúl GARCÍA
Map of the Guimaras oil spill.
© WWF-Philippines
The oil spill in the Philippines reaches the coast of Sitio Nauway Island, Guimaras, the Philippines.
© Neal Oshima