Thu | Aug 6, 2020

Oil slick fears grow for Jamaica

Published:Thursday | June 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Laura Redpath Senior Staff Reporter

Failure to plug a deep-sea well which has spilled tens of millions of gallons of oil along the United States Gulf Coast could have disastrous effects on Jamaica's already depleted fish stock, a local marine specialist has warned.

While British Petroleum works feverishly with its latest strategy to stem the flow - with a containment cap which is capturing 630,000 gallons (2.4 million litres) a day and pumping it to a ship at the surface - Dr Karl Aiken, senior lecturer in the University of the West Indies' Life Sciences Department, says time is running out.

"Once it hits this area, we're going to have problems," said Aiken.

"The issue is, the reef fish stock around Jamaica is severely overfished. In fact, it's on the verge of collapse, especially on the north coast.

"The reef fishery supports 85 per cent of the fishing industry of Jamaica. Actually, it's closer to 90 per cent," he added.

Spread by gulf stream

According to the university lecturer, through a network of loops and streams, the oil may wend its way along the Eastern Seaboard before reaching Bermuda.

"Once it crosses the Florida Keys, it's going to latch on and be caught in the gulf stream at its fastest point," Aiken said.

A feeder current would then take it from Bermuda, then towards the Bahamas and, possibly, to Jamaica through the passage separating Cuba and Haiti, Aiken said.

"By September or October, it could get as far as Bermuda," he pointed out.

However, Lieutenant Commander Richard Russell, chief executive director of the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, cautioned that there was no need for alarm.

"It's away from Jamaica," he said. "I'm not really worried about it."

Russell said the long-shot possibility of oil travelling into Jamaican waters would present one major concern: deciding on what dispersants should be used to dissolve the oil.

"If, for some strange reason, the oil ended up here, the tourism sector would be more concerned because of the tar balls that would end up on the beach," Russell told The Gleaner.

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust, said that while she does not envision any environmental fallout for Jamaica's beaches, marine life could be compromised.

"The effects on marine organisms could be significant, long-lasting and also largely unknown at this point," she said.

"Many types of fish and marine mammals migrate long distances. Our fish could be coming from quite far away."