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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 15:37 GMT
TV botanist's alarm at spill
Volunteers rescue a pelican
Volunteers rescue a pelican
Botanist Professor David Bellamy, who is President of the Galapagos Foundation and well known to UK TV audiences for his enthralling plantlife programmes, explains his alarm at the oil spill in the environmentally-sensitive archipelago.

An oil spill anywhere in the word is a catastrophe in the making.

If it is not contained and dealt with in the correct way, wildlife will be killed and the livelihood of local communities could be ruined.

Prof Bellamy
Prof Bellamy: Tanker should never have gone aground
An oil spill on the Galapagos, a group of islands where unique plants and animals contributed to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, has the making of a catastrophe with international implications.

Let us not forget that the Galapagos archipelago is a World Heritage Site and therefore, in theory, has the protection of the international community.

With modern methods of navigation that tanker should never have gone aground. Why in this day and age is any ship using or carrying bunker oil allowed to ply for trade in the waters surrounding such a place?

The accident has put unique wildlife, and the living systems of which they are a part, at risk of imbalance or even collapse.

The Jessica is listing badly
The Jessica is listing badly
The only good news is that right from the start a partnership of the Ecuadorian Government, national parks and The Charles Darwin Foundation, swung into action to try to soften the blow.

It is the sea birds that are at greatest risk - pelicans, boobies, cormorants - and in fact anything that rests on or dives into the sea to feed.

All too often they see an oil slick as a signal of food down below and in they go ... to a truly dreadful end. Their protective feathers soak up the oil and their desperate preening means they ingest the toxic oil.

Penguins are especially at risk as are the sea lions because their hair attracts the oil.

And much of the oil that has leaked out of the Jessica will end up on the sea floor where it will pose further threats.

But what about long-term damage? The honest answer is we do not know because we are dealing with a biological system.

One tiny bacterium getting into the wrong person at the wrong time could bring about the fall of an empire.

Similarly, one glitch in one key ecosystem component of the Galapagos could do the same thing. Thank God, ecosostems are in the main more resilient than their man-made counterparts.

The iguana is a firm favourite with the tourists
Of all the islands' special animals, the marine iguana - yes, a reptile that lives in the sea - is my favourite and also a firm favourite of the lucky tourists who have the privilege to visit these fabled islands.

And there is the rub, for the often, much-maligned concept of ecotourism is really working for the Galapagos.

It is not only teaching people of the heritage but creating local jobs and earning very welcome cash for the Ecuadorian Government.

Every bird or animal that is killed and every beach or headland damaged by the oil slick is bad news not just for the ecology but for the economy of this very special place.

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23 Jan 01 | Americas
Funds flow for Galapagos clean-up
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