New blow to Galapagos iguanas

Posted: 6 June 2002

Eighteen months after the tanker Jessica ran aground in the Galapagos islands, spilling some 3m tons of deisel and bunker oil, scientists are reporting a devastating loss of marine iguanas.

Reporting in Nature, scientists from Princeton University said that 62 per cent of the marine iguanas in Sante Fe island had died in the year after the spill, even though strong currents dispersed most of the slick.

The high mortality rate following what was seen as a minor accident suggests that wildlife is more vulnerable to oil spills than previously thought, says Martin Wikeslki, leader of the team.

He theorises that the animals depend upon specialised bacteria in their stomachs which break down the marine algae they feed on. Even if the iguanas are not vulnerable to low levels of oil contamination, the bacteria may be.

"Our findings warn against complacency over apparently low-impact contamination after environmental disasters in other wildlife areas such as the arctic national wildlife refuge in Alaska" say the scientists.

The marine iguanas of the Galapagos are the world's only seagoing lizards. There are thought to be between 200,000 and 300,000 on the islands.

Source: Nature and The Guardian. See also: