Click here for map of Galapagos Islands
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Photo courtesy of the Darwin Foundation

Located 950 km. west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos Islands, famous for their giant tortoises, rare birds and plants are one of the world's most environmentally significant areas. British naturalist Charles Darwin visited the archipelago in 1835 and conducted intensive studies of its wildlife. This study was fundamental to the development of his theories on natural selection.

January 22, 2001

Adapted from CBC News, Copyright CBC/SRC, 2001

The Ecuadorean-registered tanker Jessica ran aground Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2001 in a bay on San Cristobal Island and began leaking oil on Friday, Jan. 19, 2001. So far almost 600,000 litres of fuel have seeped out the tanker. On Sunday, the country's environment minister warned that new cracks have appeared in the hull, speeding up the leak. Since then, half of the ship has been submerged, and marine officials say there's a good chance the vessel will break in two.

Ecuador's government says the damage from the oil spill near the environmentally-sensitive Galapagos Islands is already "extremely grave."

Slicks are now affecting a 303-square kilometre area. Officials say the current is pushing the spill south. They're worried it could soon reach Espanola Island, home to large colonies of sea lions, and the island of Santa Fe, famed for the Santa Fe land iguana, a species found nowhere else.

A full-scale clean-up effort is underway. U.S. pollution-fighting experts arrived to help with the cleanup on Sunday with specialized petroleum spill equipment, setting up floating nets and barriers to contain the spill. They're also trying to contain the oil still on board the tanker. They're using inflatable oil-containment barges and high capacity pumps to suck up the oil near the "Jessica." Floating nets and barriers have been set up to try and protect nearby beaches.

Local biologists say the long-term danger is that the fuel will sink to the ocean floor and destroy algae vital to the food chain, threatening marine iguanas, sharks and other species. Slicks have already reached some nearby beaches and harmed sea lions and birds, including blue-footed boobies, pelicans and albatrosses.

The best way to protect our environment from oil spills is to prevent them from occurring. Our most important prevention system is people - people who know how to handle an oil spill emergency, and people who care. We all have a role in protecting the environment from oil spills. Check this page for updates on the situation in the Galapagos and use the resources below from the YES I Can! database to explore this environmental issue with students:

  • What happens when oil is spilled in our waterways?
  • How can we prevent oil spills - both large and small?
  • How can we prepare for oil spills?
  • What can Canadians do to limit the environmental damage oil spills can cause.

The YES I Can! classroom activities below will help your students answer these questions and more.

Database powered by GTA's Curriculum DataEngine(tm)

Ongoing throughout February, 2001

Fri. Feb. 16, 2001

February 15th, a small amount of fuel was reported to be leaking from "Jessica" once again. The fuel that has recently leaked out is from the main engine service tanks of the vessel and the movement of the ocean has possibly caused this tank to crack, allowing the small amount of fuel to escape.

Galapagos National Park experts have placed a barrier around the ship to prevent the fuel from spreading towards the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal Island. The Charles Darwin Research Station team is ready to resume efforts in the Wildlife Rescue Centers and the Galapagos National Park team has begun further clean up operations.


What Next, Galapagos?

Researchers plan to use a variety of tools, including NASA satellite data, to assess possible long-term problems with the islands' unique ecosystem. Click here for report courtesy of NASA Science News, Feb. 7, 2001.


Now It's Time For Clean-Up, Evaluation Of Impacts And Monitoring - And To Think About The Future

Report from Charles Darwin Research Station, Feb. 2, 2001


Members of the Charles Darwin Research Station will continue to work together with the Galapagos National Park Service to coordinate activities to deal with fuel spill, i.e. clean-up operations and wildlife monitoring from air, sea, and land.

In order to mitigate the overall effects of the spill, the Charles Darwin Research Station has implemented the following programs:

  • Monitoring areas affected by the fuel spill
  • Monitoring potentially threatened areas to establish a baseline
  • Setting up animal rescue centers
  • Treating affected animals on-site
  • Collaborating with international specialists

So far, reports show that impacts to the wildlife is minimal.

Wed., Jan. 31, 2001

The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) continues to coordinate the clean up, monitoring and wildlife rescue operations throughout the archipelago with support from the Charles Darwin Research Station. Biologists continue to take sediment cores on each island to measure the level of contamination in the different sites. They will also take samples of small animals (e.g. crustaceans) found in the sand. These cores and samples will be analyzed at Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Now that fewer slicks are being reported and the state of emergency seems to be declining, it is time to start planning the next steps. In the next weeks assessments will be made of the impacted sites. The contamination level of each site will be evaluated along with the sensitivity of each site (e.g. mangroves are considered highly sensitive whereas cliff areas are less sensitive.) Selected sites and species will be monitored over the long-term to check any changes in feeding habits or reproduction after the fuel spill.

A contingency plan in case of future emergencies is being developed by the GNPS with the support of all the local groups involved in the cleanup operation

Tues., Jan. 30, 2001

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

Footage of the cleanup efforts on Isabela Island on Jan. 29, 2001, courtesy of the Darwin Foundation. (Download times will vary according to speed of Internet connection). If you wish to make a donation to help this work, please contact one of the Friends of Galapagos organizations listed on the website www.galapagos.org

Mon., Jan. 29, 2001

The U.S. Coast Guard, who's assisting in recovering the oil spilled from the tanker Jessica, says the wreck is in too poor condition to be moved. It will have to remain where it is for now because salvage crews don't have the proper equipment to remove it.
Footage of the cleanup efforts in Santa Floreana on Jan. 27, 2001, courtesy of the Darwin Foundation. (Download times will vary according to speed of Internet connection). If you wish to make a donation to help this work, please contact one of the Friends of Galapagos organizations listed on the website www.galapagos.org

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

Sun., Jan. 28, 2001

The Captain of the Jessica says that although he may be responsible for running the tanker aground off the Galapagos Islands, he cannot be held responsible for any damage to the environment. He maintains that slow acting park officials are responsible for any contamination.

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

Sat., Jan. 27, 2001

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

The Canadian Nature Federation is sending two biologists to the Galapagos Islands to assist with the oil spill clean-up effort. The two will help to rescue wildlife affected the disaster and learn more about how to avoid such disasters in Canada.

Fri., Jan. 26, 2001

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

Thurs., Jan. 25, 2001

The captain of the oil tanker Jessica says he's to blame for the tanker running aground off the Galapagos Islands on Jan. 16. He said he didn't even know the rock was there, that it was overconfidence on his part and his crew were not to blame. Footage of the cleanup efforts on Santa Cruz Island courtesy of the Darwin Foundation. (Download times will vary according to speed of Internet connection). If you wish to make a donation to help this work, please contact one of the Friends of Galapagos organizations listed on the website www.galapagos.org
Wed., Jan. 24, 2001

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - Impacts on the Ecosystem

The captain and crew of the oil tanker Jessica have been arrested and officials in Ecuador say they plan to arrest the owners of the ship as well. No formal charges have been laid but those arrested could be charged with negligence and crimes against the environment. If they're convicted, they could face two to four years in prison.

Tues., Jan. 23, 2001

Report from the Charles Darwin Research Station: Galapagos Oil Spill - A Preliminary Overview of the Impacts on the Ecosystem

Canada is contributing to the cleanup of a major oil spill in the Galapagos Islands.

Ottawa announced Tuesday it will send $100,000 to the Charles Darwin Foundation - which cares for the unique wildlife in the environmentally-sensitive region.

Nature is also lending a helping hand. The winds shifted on Tuesday and began blowing the oil slick towards the open sea.

Mon., Jan. 22, 2001

The government of Ecuador has declared a national emergency in response to a major oil spill threatening the environmentally-sensitive Galapagos Islands.

"For us, this is the equivalent of an earthquake," said a presidential spokesperson.

Declaring a national emergency gives the government immediate access to extra funds for the cleanup. And biologists warn that time is of the essence.

"Obviously, the longer they wait to remove this layer (of oil), the plants beneath the ocean's surface will weaken or die, and the entire food chain will be altered," Ricardo Moreno, director of Fundacion Natura, told Reuters.

Today's date is: This page was last updated: 8/19/2002

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