Galapagos animals threatened by oil slicks

Ecuador has declared a state of emergency for the Galapagos islands.

Ecuador has declared a state of emergency for the Galapagos islands.

Oil from a wrecked tanker is threatening the beaches which are home to rare species.

The spill began last week near the islands, 600 miles off Ecuador's coast. By Monday, some 170,000 gallons of diesel fuel had poured from the disabled tanker.

The government's emergency declaration was meant to allow for quick allocation of funds to help pay for the clean-up.

Some 30 Galapagos National Park employees in small motor boats began the slow task of skimming the water's surface around the tanker to clean slicks of diesel.

But that small fleet could not address a larger problem. Experts are monitoring intermittent slicks within a 488-square-mile area.

Currents pushed the fuel to the south and - more alarmingly - west toward the bulk of islands in the volcanic Galapagos chain, a fragile ecosystem populated by animal and plant species found nowhere else in the world.

The problem began on January 16, when the Ecuadorean tanker Jessica ran aground in pounding surf off San Cristobal Island, the easternmost island in the Galapagos archipelago.

Ecuadorean Environment Minister Rodolfo Rendon told the Associated Press that some 60,000 gallons has been recovered from the damaged tanker. A team of US coast guard specialists recovered another 10,000 gallons leaving only about another 10,000 gallons inside.

Carlos Valle, co-ordinator of the WWF's Galapagos programme in Ecuador, said the damage could be grave for the hundreds of sea lions and thousands of iguanas that populate Santa Fe.

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