On January 15, 2022, an oil spill occurred off the coast of Peru, due to the fall of crude oil from the Italian-flagged vessel Mare Doricum, owned by the Spanish company Repsol, into the sea off the district of Ventanilla, in the constitutional province of Callao. It is estimated that a total of approximately 12 thousand barrels of oil were spilled into the sea.
According to Peru's Environmental Evaluation and Oversight Agency (OEFA), the oil spill has affected some 1,187 km² of sea and 1,740 km² of beach-littoral strip. About 17 beaches have been affected, as well as more than 500 hectares of protected natural areas. The impact has been so severe that it has been described by the OEFA as the largest ecological disaster to have occurred in Peru.
The ecological disaster affects the shores of the coast, the sea surface, and the impact on the seabed remains to be determined.
The consequences of the spill on wildlife
Wildlife protection teams in the area affected by the oil spill report the death of numerous fish, birds and marine mammals. Many other species that nested on islands in a nature reserve are at risk of dying from starvation or poisoning.
“It is irreparable environmental damage due to the consequences that we have been identifying to date. There are 472 specimens covered with oil, more than 67 dead birds, but we are also making an effort to go out every day to rescue these species and transfer them for their recovery and rehabilitation,” said Oscar García Tello, head of the National Reserve of Islands, Islets and Puntas Guaneras, in a statement to Radio Francia Internacional.
With oil on their wings, the birds cannot fly or feed. In addition, their plumage loses its thermal condition, so they suffer hypothermia, according to specialists.
Other birds that were not bathed by the oil fed on fish contaminated with crude oil and died of intoxication, according to specialists from the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (Sernanp).
The bird species that were affected by the oil spill are in the following conservation status:
Near-threatened species: guanay, chuita, wren and Peruvian pelican.
Vulnerable species: Humboldt penguin.
Species of Least Concern: Neotropical cormorant, Peruvian booby and Peruvian gull.
Possible disappearance of sea otters
One of the marine species in particular danger is the sea otter (Lontra felina). According to reports from biologists who went to the site, such as Yuri Hooker Mantilla, from the Marine Biology Laboratory of the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, the few specimens that lived between Ventanilla and Ancón have died.
“It is one of the biggest alerts that we have of the effect of the spill on the species, since there are few individuals that can be found on the coast. So, with the sea otters affected and dead, we would be talking about local extinction, because they disappeared from the area, but we have not yet registered that,” Deyvis Huamán, head of Sernanp's Monitoring, Surveillance and Control Unit, told El Comercio newspaper.
This carnivorous mammal is currently on the red list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Wildlife rehabilitation and treatment
In order to attend to and coordinate the rehabilitation of wildlife affected by the oil spill, Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) is permanently monitoring the damaged area in order to recover as many specimens as possible that have been bathed in oil or indirectly damaged by this environmental emergency.
The rescued animals are taken to the Parque de las Leyendas, with the support of the Collared Storm Swallow Project of the Universidad Ricardo Palma. There they are washed with special grease remover detergents and then dried. In addition, they receive veterinary treatment to be placed in airtight spaces, in order to prevent episodes of hypothermia.
The rescue and treatment of animals must be carried out by specialized technical personnel, in order to provide the necessary care that does not endanger the health of people and the welfare of the rescued animals. This is to ensure their successful recovery and subsequent return to their natural habitat.
By: Juan Carlos Ugarelli