The oil tanker Prestige, carrying a cargo of 77,000 tonnes of heavy bunker oil, sank off the coast of Galicia (NW Spain) on 19 November 2002. Most of the Galician coast was severely polluted with oil and hundreds of oiled seabirds were retrieved from beaches in the first weeks of the incident. The decision taken by Spanish authorities to tow the damaged vessel to deeper offshore waters has been described as a criminal act and was the reason why such a large area was affected. Seabird distribution in the offshore waters of Galicia has not been studied well and as a result, the impact of this spill on vulnerable populations is difficult to predict. Preliminary observations during dissections suggest that the most numerous victims (in decreasing order of abundance) have been: juvenile Razorbills (winter visitors), adult Atlantic Puffins (winter visitors), adult European Shags (residents), adult Northern Gannets (passage migrants), and juvenile Common Guillemots (winter visitors). By 23/24th November 2002 it was estimated that over 80% of Yellow-legged Gulls seen in coastal Galicia were oil-fouled, but relatively few of these were found dead or were received in rehabilitation centres. Proper impact assessments of oil spills have often been neglected in the past and would have been neglected here again. It is concluded that we need to be better prepared for dealing with the seabird casualties of the next major oil spill in Europe and that there is an urgent need for a contingency plan for Europe to establish such procedures.

Atlantic seabirds

CC BY 3.0 NL ("Naamsvermelding")

Nederlandse Zeevogelgroep

Kees (C.J.) Camphuysen, Martin Heubeck, Sherri L. Cox, Roberto Bao, Diana Humple, Christine Abraham, & Antonio Sandoval. (2002). The Prestige oil spill in Spain. Atlantic seabirds, 4(3), 131–140.