A MARINE protection group has highlighted the ‘heart-breaking’ Gibraltar oil spill that will affect local sea life for ‘at least a decade’.

Nautilus Project co-founder Lewis Stagnetto explained the visible ‘black stuff’ is just the tip of the iceberg as the oil has now mixed with the water stifling fish breeding ‘for a long time’.

And with the salvage company now planning to lift and extract the shipwreck, he now fears ‘residual oil and diesel within the pipes which could be released into the sea’.

Stagnetto and his team have helped government agencies to scoop away the thick oil sludge and tarballs on Gibraltar beaches over the past year.

The experienced marine biologist described the ‘gruelling process’ of cleaning up after two specific spills caused by Easterly storms.

“The incident and leaks have been detrimental to our marine environment,” Stagnetto told the Olive Press.

“The damage is evident right along our coastline with signs of stress visible along the rocky shore,” he added.

Nautilus Group volunteers were some of the first on the scene, raising the alarm and then helping to clear away the oil.

“It’s heart-breaking at times especially when you see the damage that these vessels can inflict on our marine ecosystem,” Stagnetto said.

And he added that the visible sludge was not the worst of it.

“Whilst it is true that what washes ashore is an issue, the main concern comes from the vertical mixing of the oil within the water column.

“This creates a disturbance gradient which affects the reproductive cycles of many benthic invertebrates and fish.

“These effects are known to persist in the ecosystem for at least a decade after the initial oil spill meaning that our marine wildlife will be dealing with these effects for a long time yet.”

He now hopes that ships bunkering in Gibraltar will all be double-hulled to avoid this sort of incident in the future.

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