MARPOL must ban discharge at sea of polyisobutylene which is killing European sea birds

April 24th, 2013 by Alderney Wildlife Trust

Guillemots, Uria aalge, washed up on Vazon beach on Guernsey's west coast on 26 January 2003 due to their plumage being covered by oil (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Guillemots, Uria aalge, washed up on Vazon beach on Guernsey’s west coast on 26 January 2003 due to their plumage being covered by oil (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

On 22 April 2013 the Alderney Wildlife Trust recovered a dead Guillemot from Braye Harbour in Alderney.

This is the first bird recorded in the Channel Islands that is believed to have been killed by Polyisobutylene (PIB).

The discovery of this bird occurred at the same time as it was announced that over the previous seven days one thousand seabirds with PIB on them had been found dead on the south-west coast of England.

Dead guillemot which was recovered from Braye Harbour, Alderney on 22 April 2013 (click image to expand - image courtesy of the Alderney Wildlife Trust)

A dead guillemot which was recovered from Braye Harbour, Alderney on 22 April 2013 (click image to expand – image courtesy of the Alderney Wildlife Trust)

Nineteen species have been recorded as having been affected by this pollution incident so far with the hundreds of birds found dead and dying along the coast including large numbers of Guillemots and Puffins.

Gannets which were also found amongst the dead may well include birds which were breeding at the only British Channel Gannetries of Les Etacs and Ortac, just off Alderney’s coast.

Gannets flying off Les Etacs, Alderney on 1 October 2010 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Gannets flying off Les Etacs, Alderney on 1 October 2010 (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

A discharge of polyisobutylene off the Dutch coast killed sea birds in December 1998 and again in March 2010.

Another PIB pollution incident in February 2013 killed hundreds of sea birds, raising the question as to what the future is for seabirds in the English Channel and the North Sea if these incidents continue to occur regularly.

PIB is used as an additive to oils and is currently listed under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) as being legal to discharge from ships at sea, under certain conditions.

In MARPOL Annex II, PIB is listed under category Z of noxious liquid substances in bulk which covers substances presenting a minor hazard to either marine resources or human health and therefore justify less stringent restrictions on the quality and quantity of the discharge into the marine environment.

Investigations into the February 2013 incident were abandoned by the Marine Coastguard Agency (MCA) as they “concluded that it is highly unlikely we will be able to link the pollution to any specific vessel.”

Roland Gauvain, Alderney Wildlife Trust manager, said “if the wind direction had swung to the north it may well have been our islands which would have experienced the horrendous site of hundreds of dead seabirds on our beaches.”

“It’s important to recognise that we don’t know how much damage has been done by these PIB discharges,” he said.

“With as many as 2,000 birds having been found dead or dying in the UK in the last few months, we have to ask how many of these birds would have breed in the Channel Islands?”

“With the Guillemot colony of the Guernsey Humps yet to return this year, it may well be too late for some of our Channel Island most special wildlife,” he said.

The Alderney Wildlife Trust calls on the Channel Island Governments to back the growing demand of key UK NGO’s, including The Wildlife Trusts Partnership, the RSPB, and the RSPCA to have the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reclassify PIB to prohibit the dumping of it at sea.

Joan Edwards, head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts, said “dead and dying seabirds may be the most visible victims of our mismanagement.”

“Impacts on other parts of marine life support systems may be just as widespread, and more serious.”

“Firm controls must be implemented to minimise future disasters such as this, and which allow deliberate offenders to be held to account,” he said.

The Alderney Wildlife Trust will call for a joint seabird monitoring strategy for the Channel Islands.

Roland Gauvain said “our marine wildlife is one of the strongest aspects of our Channel Islands identity.  It’s a crucial indicator of the health of our environment and vital for our tourism industry.”

“This incident highlights the need for joint working between the Channel Islands to protect our crucial natural resources and prepare a joint response to man-made disasters such as this,” he said.

 

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