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Chronic oil pollution takes toll on seabirds along South American coast

The old adage tells that oil doesn't mix with water. It doesn't do much for creatures in the water either, as demonstrated by new research on the effects of water-borne oil on seabirds along the Atlantic Coast in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

Chronic oil pollution has been a long-standing problem along a 4,200-mile stretch of coast from southern Brazil to northern Argentina. Existing laws are not solving the problem, said University of Washington biologist Dee Boersma, co-author of a paper detailing how the oil pollution is affecting Magellanic penguins, appearing in the February edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin, published by Elsevier.

The negative effects of oil on penguins could be a barometer for less-hardy species, she said.

"There are a lot of groups rehabilitating oiled birds, some for more than two decades, and that says that for more than 20 years there's been a big problem along this part of the South American coastline," Boersma said. "That's the prime wintering grounds for Magellanic penguins."

Unlike a major oil spill that causes problems for a time and can be cleaned up, chronic oil pollution is continuous and hard to track or clean up because it comes bit by bit, sometimes in ballast water from passing ships, sometimes in seepage from offshore oil rigs.

To gauge the scope of the problem, Boersma and fellow Wildlife Conservation Society scientist Pablo Garca-Borboroglu of the Argentine research center Centro Nacional Patagnico assembled a team to see how many organized groups are working to save oiled seabirds along the coast from central Argentina to central Brazil. The scientists found there were 19 groups dedicated to rehabilitating oiled seabirds, three that survey beaches looking for oiled birds and four groups that do both.

Boersma said the research team expected to find only four or five groups dealing with oiled birds and was surprised to encounter so many. The groups are not evenly distri
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
31-Jan-2006


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