Effects of MV Solar 1 oil spill

December 13, 2006

Malaya, Dec. 14, 2006

A scientific conference on the effects of the August 11 oil spill off southern Guimaras was held in Iloilo City on November 27-28, 2006. The research teams from the University of the Philippines (Visayas and Diliman), Silliman University, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources presented their findings. The first day was devoted to the assessment of the environmental damage through the presentation of the scientific results and the second day to the post-spill monitoring and research interventions and the livelihoods of displaced fishers.

There is a certain amount of funding for the post-spill monitoring, environmental rehabilitation and fisher livelihoods. It is hoped that this funding will be put to good use by responsible individuals, and that credible achievements will be forthcoming. This being the first major marine disaster in the Visayas, people will be eager to know the progress of the environmental monitoring and rehabilitation. A second similar conference reporting this progress should be expected by the public after a year or two.

The results of the rapid assessments made in August and September 2006 indeed showed damage to mangroves and mangrove-associated organisms such as crustaceans and mollusks. Less clear were the effects of the spill on corals and coral reef fish. There is, however, a need for continuing monitoring because the effects on submerged non-motile organisms may be delayed for months and years. The greatest concern would be whether or not the exposed organisms are safe to eat, and this would require monitoring the concentrations of the chemical components of bunker oil in the flesh of these organisms in the course of time.

Guimaras is still not “out of the woods,” so to speak, because there is still oil in the sunken tanker. This oil by another accident could hit the island and other areas such as those in and around the Sulu Sea, especially with the changing monsoon winds. However, it is expected that technology can reduce the probability of a subsequent oil spill. At any rate, coastal barangays in the affected area seem to be prepared with oil spill booms for such an emergency.

If there is a lesson learned from the disaster, it is the un-preparedness of our people to handle oil spills. Among academic institutions, the most important lesson to be learned is the lack of knowledge about oil spills and lack of research equipment to monitor the effects. I hope that academic leaders see these needs so that their institutions will be prepared to respond adequately to similar accidents in the future.

The Guimaras disaster also gives academic institutions engaged in marine studies an opportunity to train graduate students in studies on oil pollution prevention and remediation, an area not usually given attention by colleges and universities, except those dealing with maritime studies. The use of the scientific method in research will be given much attention, particularly the requirement of having controls when performing experiments whether in the laboratory or in the field. The lack of adequate controls rendered some of the reported results unreliable.

Let’s hope all of us have become wiser because of the Guimaras oil spill.


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