Oil “Timebomb” Threatens Wildlife in Estonia

Friday, February 10, 2006
Tallinn, Estonia
An oil spill, that has already killed thousands of seabirds off the northwest coast of Estonia, may be a “timebomb” for wildlife warns IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org).
A portion of the 20-ton oil spill, which is currently trapped under a sheet of ice, may be released when the ice melts in coming months. The thaw may put birds and other wildlife at serious risk of becoming oiled and killed.

“Because it’s covered in ice, the oil can not be cleared up immediately. In spring, when the ice begins to melt, there will be the opportunity to recover the oil. However, there is a risk that seabirds will become oiled again as the oil warms up and starts to re-distribute. Hopefully, with local people being trained now they will be well placed to clean the birds if there are more problems in the future,” said Dr. Ian Robinson, Manager of IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team.

The oil spill came to the attention of Estonian authorities on January 26 when long tailed ducks, goldeneye ducks and mute swans covered in oil were discovered on local beaches. To date about 3,000 dead birds and 500 live birds have been recovered from the spill. Oiled birds had little chance of survival due to exposure to severe cold. Oiled feathers lose the ability to protect birds from frigid waters.

Estonian authorities have coordinated their response with IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team, Estonian Fund for Nature, RSPCA and Sea Alarm Foundation.  The groups have organized search and collection activities and have set up a wildlife hospital where, currently, more than 100 birds are being cared for.

It is still unclear which ship was responsible for the spill. Authorities have recovered 8 tons of oil but it is not known how much more is trapped under the ice or has sunk to the seabed.

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