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Newfoundland oil spill a major concern for wildlife, says seabird biologist

Nfld. & Labrador

A marine bird expert says wildlife is at risk after a cargo ship spilled roughly 30,000 litres of an oil-water mixture into the Atlantic Ocean off of Newfoundland's south coast on Thursday.

This oiled thick-billed murre was shot by a hunter near Burgeo on Sunday, according to marine bird biologist Bill Montevecchi.(Bill Montevecchi/Twitter)

A marine bird expert says wildlife is at risk after a cargo ship spilled roughly 30,000 litres of an oil-water mixture into the Atlantic Ocean off of Newfoundland's south coast on Thursday.

Bill Montevecchia professor of psychology, biology and ocean sciences at Memorial University told CBC News on Monday the spill is a horrific thing to see, and could affect a multitude of bird species that live in the region.

"The birds most vulnerable to oil are the murres. Some of those murres are big-billed murres — they come from the Arctic — common murres that breed here in Newfoundland, [and] there's eiders ducks all along the coast," Montevecchi said.

"There's just lots of them around there now, and we're well aware of that. They're the ones that are at risk."

Montevecchi took to social media to ask for the public's help, specifically hunters and lighthouse keepers, in reporting any sightings of oiled birds over the next few days.

The MV Alaskaborg sits in St. John's harbour after discharging some 30,000 litres of fuel into the waters of Newfoundland's south coast.(Francesca Swann/CBC)

On Thursday the Canadian Coast Guard reported that the MV Alaskaborg — owned by Dutch company Royal Wagenborg — accidentally discharged about 30,000 litres of an oil-water mixture over 12 hours and 175 nautical miles after the ship's fuel tank was punctured during heavy sea conditions. The 30,000 litres of fuel leaked into the ship's bilge and the oil-water mixture was then pumped overboard.

At the time, the MV Alaskaborg was ordered to stop in its position, roughly 100 nautical miles south of Cape Race. The vessel is now berthed in St. John's.

Royal Wagenborg said it's working Canadian authorities to mitigate the environmental impacts of the incident. No injuries were reported and the source of the leak was stopped as of Friday. The company said it's using two vessels with pollution response equipment and land-based teams to conduct shoreline assessments in the area.

🚨 ATTENTION <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HUNTERS?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HUNTERS</a><br>Be aware that you may encounter oiled <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/birds?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#birds</a> in the Avalon-Burin Coastal area of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Newfoundland?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Newfoundland</a>.<br><br>If you find any oil sheen or oiled birds, contact the Newfoundland and Labrador Spill Reporting Line 709 772-2083 or 1-800-563-9089 <a href="https://t.co/XEPGCn7iLh">pic.twitter.com/XEPGCn7iLh</a>

&mdash;@environmentca

On Monday, Larry Crann, deputy superintendent of the coast guard's environmental response, told CBC News that coast guard vessels continue to work in the area along with helicopters used for surveillance flights.

The CCGS Ann Harvey and CCGS Jackman are involved in the effort, but Crann says workers haven't found anything to indicate further water or coastline pollution.

"The flight didn't show any signs of pollutants on the surface of the water, indicating that what we're seeing is that the pollution is dispersing and evaporating," Crann said.

Crann said Monday's flights were cancelled due to weather, but said crews will continue to work in the area for the time being.

Few birds, so far

Montevecchi said the good news, for now, is that not many oiled birds are showing up, but there have been some found over a large geographical area.

"The only oiled birds that we've heard from is from hunters, and that's really key because we want to focus on the hunters," said Montevecchi.

"There hasn't been that many birds, but it has been spread across the south coast of the island."

Seabird expert Bill Montevecchi is a professor of psychology, biology and ocean sciences at Memorial University.(Mark Quinn/CBC)

Crann said the Coast Guard, along with Environment Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service, have gathered six oiled bird samples, many of which have come from hunters in Fortune Bay on the Burin Peninsula, Placentia Bay and on Sunday, even further west, as one was found in Burgeo.

One of the birds was reported by Roy Murphy, a fisherman and hunter in Long Harbour. He was hunting turr the day after the spill, and came across an oily bird that seemed to be very sick.

He hopes efforts to clean the water can be done as quickly as possible, as the oil presents challenges for all the wildlife in the area.

"The bald eagles will eat the turrs full of oil… Then you got the trapping animals, the sea otters and minx and foxes and lynx and the coyotes," Murphy told CBC News onMonday. "If those birds go ashore on the beach they're going to be eaten by those. It's like one big poisoning system."

Murphy also has fears the spill will affect the area's herring population, which uses the area as a breeding ground.

"You get balls of crude going down into biomass of crab or cod or whatever it is, they're going to boot her, buddy. They're not going to stay there," he said.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show, The Broadcast, and Mike Moore

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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