According to official reports by the Chilean Navy, some 40,000 liters of oil (approximately 10,600 gallons) have been spilled.
This year has been relatively quiet when it comes to oil spills, even if there has been at least one major oil spill every year since the 1980s. In this one, diesel oil has spilled into the waters Patagonia, in Chile.
Patagonia is a biodiversity hotspot encompassing the vast southernmost tip of South America. It’s shared by Chile (to the west) and Argentina (to the east), with the Andes Mountains as the dividing line. A tweet by Oceana Chile, a nonprofit ocean conservancy, describes the area affected by the oil spill — a part of the Patagonian archipelago, about 1,740 miles (2,800km) south of Santiago, Chile’s capital.
It’s not exactly clear why the spill happened. The Chilean navy sent ships to carry out an investigation, as well as contain the damage as much as possible.
“The marine pollution control centre was activated,” Ronald Baasch, commander of the navy’s Third Naval Zone, told local media.
The oil is the responsibility of the Chilean mining company CAP. The company has said that the problem is contained. They’ve also said that they are working with the navy to clean and monitor the area. A container sleeve has been deployed in the area, and work on removing oil from the environment is also being carried out.
“As an additional measure, a process of permanent monitoring of the area has been coordinated through a specialized foundation,” the company’s statement said.
However, the Chilean navy has reported that only around 15,000 liters (approximately 4,000 gallons) had been contained as of Sunday.
Although the response has been swift, the spill is still dangerous, particularly considering the pristine area in which it happened. Coastal Patagonia is home to some of the largest coastal colonies of marine mammals and birds anywhere.
“It’s an extremely grave situation considering the pristine nature of the waters in which this environmental emergency has occurred,” Greenpeace Chile Director Matías Asun told the CNN. “It must be considered that the zone is extremely difficult to access and that it is an area of great richness of marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, which could see themselves seriously affected in their habitat given that when coming to the surface to breathe they could meet this layer of oil.”
Oil spills threaten all marine life. They coat the water with dark residue, blocking sunlight from reaching the subsurface, and affecting the plankton which serves as a foundation for all marine wildlife. It also spreads chemicals through the environment, affecting creatures’ ability to feed and reproduce.
Animals who rely on scent to find their babies or mothers cannot due to the strong scent of the oil. Oil can also be ingested by animals or absorbed on birds’ feathers, with devastating consequences.