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Ecocide in Peru

January 20: Cleanup effort (Photo by Klebher Vasquez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On January 15th Peru suffered a catastrophic oil spill, affecting over 44km of coastline considered a marine biodiversity hotspot near Lima. The spill came after abnormally large waves, following the Tonga volcano eruption, resulted in a tanker spilling 264,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean whilst offloading to La Pampilla oil refinery, run by Spanish energy company Repsol.

Repsol initially massively misrepresented the extent of the spill, first reporting the spill involved less than 1 barrel before updating the figure to over 10,000, after the government’s own estimate indicated the spill to be around 11,900 barrels.

The immediate consequences of the spill were visible as hundreds of marine animals, including Humboldt penguins, sea lions, dolphins and marine otters washed ashore covered in oil. Harrowing images and videos are circulating on social media of desperate animals struggling to remove oil from their feathers and pelts.

January 18: A bird covered in oil (Photo by REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

As horrendous as the initial impact has been, the devastation of the spill is expected to remain for decades to come, as the area will be contaminated with heavy metals. The presence of these contaminants will prevent hundreds of local Peruvians from earning a living, as fish and marine invertebrates are deemed inedible. Wildlife that ingests the contaminants will often die from gastrointestinal and respiratory system damage.

Many species that rely on their pelts or feathers for warmth can quickly succumb to hypothermia as the oil prevents insulation. To make matters worse, there are no official animal rescue facilities located near the Peruvian coastline affected by the spill, making the rescue of the distressed wildlife extremely difficult, and impossible for many cases. In the last week, experts have declared the local extinction of the marine otter, an endangered and protected species.

Justice for the lost lives- Protestors at the refinery (Photo by Pilar Olivares)

Despite public protests and pressure from the government, two weeks on, Repsol are still taking minimal action or responsibility and are still unable to provide assurances that they could deal with a spill if another were to occur in the future. As of Thursday 3rd February a Repsol representative declared that they their cleanup team had cleaned 33% of the oil spilled and that the Peruvian coastline would be in an acceptable situation in March.

If anything is clear though, it is that Repsols idea of an acceptable situation is hugely different to that of Peru’s people and wildlife, who will feel the impact of this disaster long after Repsol has declared the spill rectified and who know that an acceptable situation will not be regained for years to come.

Disgraceful disaster – 2016 Peru oil spill

Who is responsible for the spill?

View of a Veterinary Zootechnician

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