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Galapagos Oil Spill

2002-7-25

This is the VOA SpecialEnglish Environment Report.

Scientists say that as many as fifteen-thousand marine iguanasdied on one of the Galapagos Islands after an oil spill last year.The scientists are not exactly sure what killed the creatures. Yetthey suspect the oil spill was to blame.

Marine iguanas are found only inthe Galapagos Islands. They are the only lizards that live in thesea. They are found along coastal rocks. They dive underwater tosearch for plants to eat.

The Galapagos Islands are in the Pacific Ocean, aboutnine-hundred kilometers west of Ecuador. They are famous for theunusual plants and animals that live there. That is because theplants and animals developed differently from those on the nearestcontinent, South America.

An Ecuadoran oil transport ship hit the coast of San CristobalIsland in the Galapagos in January, two-thousand-one. Hundreds ofthousands of liters of oil spilled into the sea. Only a fewcreatures died immediately after the shipwreck. The weather andocean currents broke up most of the oil spill.

However, a new report says the spill had a far greater effect.Martin Wikelski is an ecologist at Princeton University in theAmerican state of New Jersey. He and his team have studied Galapagosmarine iguanas since nineteen-eighty-seven. Their latest findingswere reported in Nature magazine.

The scientists estimate that the iguana population on one island,Santa Fe, dropped sharply during the eleven months after the oilspill. They say the number of marine iguanas fell fromtwenty-five-thousand to ten-thousand. The scientists found that theoil spill did not seem to harm other areas. They found no change inthe death rate of marine iguanas on the island of Genovesa.

Mister Wikelski is still trying to find out why the marineiguanas on Santa Fe Island died. He suspects the creatures swallowedoil and it killed bacteria in their stomachs. He thinks the bacteriahelp marine iguanas break down the plants they eat. As a result, theiguanas that lacked the bacteria may have starved to death.

Mister Wikelski says even small amounts of pollution can havesevere effects on wild animals. He and officials of the GalapagosNational Park are taking legal action against Ecuador's state oilcompany, which owned the ship.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by GeorgeGrow.