Surf-A-Palooza: Apr. 4-11

NOT VERY PRESTIGIOUS: With the world’s attention firmly locked on Operation Iraqi Freedom it’s easy to forget an environmental atrocity that continues to threaten the European surf community. Of course I’m speaking of the Prestige oil spill.

The Prestige, a Liberian registered tanker with 77,000 tons of crude oil broke into two and sank while under tow 150 miles west of Cape Finisterre. It now lies at the bottom of the ocean with roughly 55,000 tons of oil still in her belly. According to some reports, 16, 000 birds have washed ashore dead. The NW corner of Spain is hideously fouled by the oil. French beaches as far as La Rochelle, perhaps farther north, have been affected. Clean up is ongoing.

The good news is that some beaches have already reopened, according to a Reuters.com story. And locals have optimistically pointed out that at least the spill occurred during the off-season. But fears remain that this tourism season, or lack thereof, could severely affect the region economically.

In Biarritz, as early last week, surfers were still being denied access to the ocean, according Reuters.com. “I’ve never seen the beaches so clean,” lamented Michael Clamp, who runs a surf school in Biarritz.” But local authorities, desperate to officially pronounce the French beaches clean, are banning entrance to the ocean to accelerate a last minute cleaning.

I recently received an email update from Surfer correspondent Nick Blair and, as you might assume, all is not good in the European surf community. According to Blair, surfboard sales have dropped dramatically. One prominent Euro shaper split for Japan because demand in Europe simply wasn’t there. Blair also reports that some of the smaller, seasonal factories won’t open their doors at all this season.

Blair’s email accentuated some interesting factoids.

  • #1) According to Blair’s girlfriend, who graduates as a marine biologist in a couple of months, oils spills due to tanker accidents only contribute to 5% of the total oil spillage in our oceans. The bilge discharge by tanker vessels on return journeys is a major contributor. By far the majority is actually atmospheric fallout, estimated by scientists to be 100-4000 (yes that’s a large difference in estimates) million tons per year. Some of this is from the oil cargo evaporating during transport (about 3.7 million tons per year). Of course, oil spills are very concentrated and localized, and therefore much more horrific and damaging. But an interesting factoid nonetheless.
  • #2) The detergents and deterrents used to clean up oil spills cause more harm to the marine fauna and flora, which takes up to five times as many years to recover after being treated. But to clean up for tourism sake, these detergents are a necessary evil.
  • #3) As much as it is admirable to see the amount of sea birds rescued from spills by aid workers, the digestive tracts of the birds are still severely damaged, and propagation of the species is detered or stopped altogether.

A LITTLE TOO LITTLE, A LITTLE TOO LATE: In an effort to prevent more oil spill misery, European Union transport ministers last week endorsed a ban on single-hull tankers carrying heavy fuel oil, according to Reuters.com.