Peru tries to save seabirds after oil spill

Man holds a bird who is all black from oil
A biologist from the National Service of Protected Natural Areas holds a bird affected by the oil spill pollution, Peru, January 21, 2022, photo: Reuters/Pilar Olivares

A zoo in Lima is trying to save dozens of seabirds after almost 6,000 barrels of crude oil spilled off the coast of Peru. More than 40 seabirds were brought to the Parque de Las Leyendas zoo after being rescued from polluted nature reserves.

Six Humboldt penguins, classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and different types of cormorants are being treated at the zoo.

“We have never seen anything like this in the history of Peru,” biologist Liseth Bermudez told news agency AFP. “We didn’t think it was going to be of this magnitude.” She doesn’t know if the animals will make it: “We are doing everything we can.”

A team of veterinarians is bathing the birds with special detergents to remove the suffocating oil. They also gave the animals anti-fungal and anti-bacterial drugs and vitamins.

Peru declared an environmental emergency after almost 1.2 million liters (264,000 gallons) of crude oil spilled into the sea when a tanker was hit by big waves while offloading at a refinery. The large waves were triggered by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano near Tonga.

On Sunday, the environment ministry said that more than 180 hectares of beach and 713 hectares of sea were affected.

Biologist Guillermo Ramos of Peru’s National Forest and Wild Fauna Service (SERFOR) believes more animals will die: “There are species here that feed on crustaceans and fish that are already contaminated.”

Around 150 bird species in Peru depend on the sea for food and reproduction. The staff of SERFOR found many dead birds and sea otters since the spill, Ramos said.

Juan Carlos Riveros, scientific director of Oceana Peru, said the oil could cause birth defects, especially in birds, fish and turtles.

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