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Churna Island directly hit by oil spill: experts

Updated October 28, 2018

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The Maritime Security Agency says the source of oil spill is still unclear.— Ismael Sadoli/File
The Maritime Security Agency says the source of oil spill is still unclear.— Ismael Sadoli/File

KARACHI: As an operation began on Saturday to contain damage from the oil spill at Mubarak village and near Cape Monze, experts called for immediate measures to protect Churna Island’s sensitive habitat, which was directly hit by the oil spill.

Located some six kilometres from Mubarak village, the island falls under the jurisdiction of the Balochistan government. The island, a lifeline for fishermen, is a major biodiversity hotspot popular for scuba diving and snorkelling.

“The seawater surrounding the island was heavily polluted with oil traces that have left the whole rocky boundary of the island darkened,” said Dr Javed Aftab of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), who along with his team carried out an offshore inspection of the oil spill on Friday.

The Maritime Security Agency says the source of oil spill is still unclear

The island and its surrounding area, he pointed out, was home to highly diverse marine life, including corals.

“We plan to inspect the site in more detail on Monday and collect more samples from the site. The conditions there are worrisome and require a detailed assessment,” he said.

Explaining how corals are impacted by an oil spill, he said that it could kill them or impede their growth.

“The entire reef ecosystem can suffer from an oil spill, affecting the many species of fish, crabs, and other marine invertebrates that live in and around coral reefs,” he said, adding that oil fingerprinting could help trace the source of oil spill.

He also shared his observations of Mubarak village and said that fishermen had genuine concerns over the loss of their livelihood and future implications of this disaster.

“The whole marine ecology along this coastal belt has been badly affected. Oil traces now cover rocky habitats supporting a diverse range of species. All must have perished [in] this disaster which would have short- and long-term effects,” he said.

Environmentalists have long been demanding that Churna Island be declared a protected area due to its ecological significance, which in recent years faces serious threats from industrial development.

Who did it?

The deputy director general of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, Commodore Abdul Majid, told a press conference that the source of the oil spill was still unclear and an investigation into the incident would be carried out once agencies finished their damage-control operations.

“We came to know about this incident on 25th and immediately measures were taken to assess the damage. Air surveillance showed that there were two trails of oil spillage,” he said, adding that the quantity of spilled oil could be six to seven tonnes.

Speaking to Dawn, PMSA spokesperson Lt Cdr Wajid Nawaz Chaudhary said that the Pakistan Navy and PMSA had initiated efforts to contain the oil affecting the sea.

“We are being helped by the Karachi Port Trust and Byco. Both oil spill trails of around 500m each exist near Cape Monze. However, we will check whether Churna Island is affected or not,” he said in reply to a question.

The clean-up operation at Mubarak village, he said, was also being carried out while samples had been collected by experts, which would help trace the source of oil spill.

Sindh Minister for Environment and Coastal Development Taimur Talpur also visited Mubarak village and inspected the affected areas.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2018

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