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‘Hasty' report on oil impacts may be tip of the iceberg

A hastily-organised five-day marine environmental survey commissioned by the Federal Environment Minister in the region impacted by the Montara oil spill shows large numbers of false killer whales, birds and sea snakes in the area.

“The report reveals a high level of diversity and abundance of species and warns that many of these were observed feeding and moving in the oil – activities that the report says are likely to put them at ‘immediate risk’,” Greens Spokesperson on Marine Issues, Senator Rachel Siewert said.

“It also notes that animals that are dead or dying may not stay afloat for long periods of time, meaning it is unlikely that observers would find large numbers of dead animals – so the number of casualties may be far higher than reported.

“Importantly, it notes that many animals were attracted to the oil or were seen feeding in it, which is likely to affect their health.

“This report was commissioned by Peter Garrett on 24 September, five weeks after the spill began and the same day that non-government organisation, WWF, set off from Darwin to report on the extent of the oil and the wildlife at stake.

“That timing is significant; I doubt that we would even have gained this information if looming publicity about WWF’s trip had not forced the Government’s hand.

“If you look carefully at where the scientists who produced this report conducted their five days of monitoring, and the limited time of their survey – the full extent of the oil impacts have obviously not been revealed,” Senator Siewert continued.

“Given the short-term nature of the survey it is very difficult to get a true picture of what is happening. But it is obvious that there is a lot of marine life up there, much of it is interacting with the oil and it is highly likely that much of it has been affected.

“I also note that the report found that:

• Over five days, the scientists counted 462 cetaceans (including false killer whales and three species of dolphin), 2801 birds (of 23 different species),  62 sea snakes and 25 turtles;

• Many of these species, including birds, cetaceans, sea snakes and turtles, were seen feeding, often in large numbers, in oil-affected water.

• The presence of dying birds and dead sea snakes suggested that there was an ‘immediate risk’ to species entering oil-affected area.

• Some animals appeared to be attracted to the oil because of the presence of bait fish in it; and

• The oil spill was likely to affect food supply to young birds over a long time period.”

Editors: the Federal Government report, including many photos, may be viewed here: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/publications/pubs/montara-rapid-survey.pdf

For more information or media enquiries please call Eloise Dortch on 0415 507 763

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