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You are here: Home / News / Oil spill off Galicia badly damages highly valuable ecosystems

Oil spill off Galicia badly damages highly valuable ecosystems

The oil spill from the now-sunken tanker “Prestige” off the coast of Galicia is affecting one of the most beautiful and spectacular parts of the Spanish coastline. The spill is destroying the ecosystems of Costa da Morte and Cabo Fisterra, biological habitats of great value, and creating a real drama for many families in this rural area living primarily from fishing.

The oil spill from the now-sunken tanker “Prestige” off the coast of Galicia is affecting one of the most beautiful and spectacular parts of the Spanish coastline. The spill is destroying the ecosystems of Costa da Morte and Cabo Fisterra, biological habitats of great value, and creating a real drama for many families in this rural area living primarily from fishing.

More than 130 kilometres of coastline have already been hit. The environmental disaster area stretches from Seixo Blanco near el Ferrol to Fisterra, including the whole Costa da Morte and the estuaries. This part of the coast, now covered by a thick layer of oil, is known for the unique beauty of its land and the extraordinary diversity of its nature. More oil threatens to wash ashore, further aggravating the situation and spreading the environmental disaster to the many low estuaries in the area.

The environmental damage is already immense. The affected area has a large number of protected habitats that make up the NATURA 2000 network in the Region of Galicia, including the Costa da Morte (several locations), the estuaries of Anllons, Carnota and Monte Pindo, Monte and Laguna de Louro, Estuario del Tambre and others. There is concern about the fate of rock ecosystems (e.g. the Cies Islands and the rocky coastlines in the area), and especially about the coral and sponge colonies. Also affected are the rich tidal zones (eg. the Umia-Grove tidal area) and the estuaries, beaches, and wetlands that are protected habitats under the Ramsar Convention (e.g. the Corrubedo zone).

At least 250 birds of 18 different species have already been affected by the slick, according to conservationists. The impact is likely to be greater still given that it is now high season for migration of birds that nest in the United Kingdom and France, especially razorbills, guillemots, and gannets. During the winter the Costa da Morte is home to large colonies of birds because of its plentiful supply of food.

The economy of the affected area is largely based on fishing, thanks to its rich fishing grounds. Two of these are located in the area already affected:

  • the bight of Artabro, with its fishing grounds of hake, conger eel, sea bream, cod, horse mackerel, sardine, spider crab, and Dublin Bay prawn
  • the bight of Fisterra, with rich fishing grounds of hake, conger eel, and Dublin Bay prawn

As a result of the spill an order has been issued prohibiting fishing and catching of shrimp and other seafood in the settlements of Seixo Blanco, Caion, Malpica, Corbe, Laxe, Camariñas, Muxia and Fisterra. Some 5,000 households that base their livelihood on fishing - small net and tackle fishermen, and shrimp and seafood collectors - could be affected. The negative effect will be especially harsh since the period around Christmas is the time of highest income from catching seafood and fish. Many of these families have no other means of subsistence and have thus been deprived of their means of making a living by the disaster.

The landscapes and natural beauty of the area also form the basis of a well-established rural tourism sector which brings additional resources to the local economy. This Christmas and the upcoming tourist season are likely to see a strong drop in tourism and visits as a result of the spill.

Prepared by European Topic Centre on Terrestrial Environment

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