SAN CRISTOBAL, Ecuador
- Pedrín scarcely moves while Adam, a volunteer, gently
rubs a sponge dipped in a special liquid - a mixture
of solvent and water - over his wings. He doesn't
seem to be impatient with the slow cleaning procedure
that is saving his life.
Soon, free of petroleum residues, Pedrín will be off
in the skies again, hunting the waters that surround
San Cristobal Island, in the Galapagos.
Pedrín was a lucky bird. Others have not enjoyed the
same fate. At least three of his fellow pelicans fell
victim to the spillage of 300 tons of fuel from the
tanker Jessica, which in January ran aground in this
Ecuadorian sanctuary, a United Nations Natural Heritage
of Humanity site.
The official list of deaths also includes two seagulls,
two frigate birds, three puffins and a manta ray -
all of which were previously inhabitants of an ecosystem
that is famous the world over for having inspired
Charles Darwin's theory of the evolution of species.
Each death of an animal is a dagger in the heart of
environmentalists. And four weeks after the disaster,
they continue finding cadavers. ''I will stay until
we find the last animal with signs of contamination,''
says Adam after saving Pedrín's life.
Adam, whose home is in the US state of California,
flew to the islands as soon as he heard about the
Jessica oil spill, joining four other volunteers from
the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Enthusiastic environmentalists like them have assisted
the staff at the Charles Darwin Foundation in saving
150 animals so far, including seals and birds, which
were released back into their habitat after being
With the support of several governments and environmental
organizations, the Wildlife Rescue Center, based in
San Cristobal, was able to set up and equip veterinary
centers for treating all types of species, though
the ones who most suffered the impacts of the oil
spill were seals and pelicans.
The head of Galapagos National Park, Eliécer Cruz,
expressed his appreciation for the assistance and
underscored the role of the volunteers. They perceive
the islands ''as part of their lives,'' Cruz pointed
Bruce, another volunteer, commented that a true environmentalist
should feel any blow to ecology personally. ''These
unique islands are very loved by us. I hope that Ecuador
becomes aware of what they mean to humanity,'' he
While Tierramérica conversed with Bruce, some members
of the local fishing community arrived with three
sea birds covered in crude and a dead pelican. The
volunteers got to work, beginning the clean up.
''Even though we know that in the coming months we
will continue to find animals killed by the contamination
indirectly through the food they eat, we believe no
more pelicans killed directly as a result of the oil
spill,'' he commented.
Cruz says the staff of the Galapagos National Park
and the Charles Darwin Foundation remain on permanent
The WWF has warned that international law and mechanisms
for inspection and monitoring are still insufficient
for reducing the incidence of oil spills.
''The efforts of many countries in fighting oil spills
occur only when they are hit by a big spill, as occurred
now with Ecuador,'' Adam said.
According to the WWF, there are an average of two
accidents per month worldwide involving oil spills,
and 80 percent of the cases involve human error and
the permissive attitudes of many governments, which
allow petroleum-carrying ships into their waters even
if the vessels are in poor condition.
More than 6,000 tankers currently navigate the world's
oceans, and many are carrying toxic materials on board.
Following the black tide caused by the inebriation
of the captain of the Exxon Valdez on the coast of
Alaska in 1989 - a spill that dumped 36,000 tons of
crude, covering 800 km of coastline - the United States
tightened up the country's petroleum shipping laws.
The US government also set up a special commission
to follow the effects of the giant spill over a 10-year
period, ending in 1999.
Pollution from fossil fuel derivatives has cumulative
and persistent effects as it is introduced into the
marine food chain through its principal vector: water.
The negative effects can reach humans through the
consumption of filtering species, such as mollusks.
The biological impact of petroleum pollution in the
Galapagos marine ecosystem is also evident in the
phyto-plankton and sea plants. For fauna, however,
black tides are true catastrophes.
The Exxon Valdez accident in the US state of Alaska
killed 250,000 birds, 5,000 sea otters, 300 seals,
22 killer whales, 150 American osprey, 14 sea lions
and innumerable fish of a broad range of species.
In the Galapagos Islands, the scale of death was much
less, but for ecologists, there is no excuse to put
off making radical changes in legislation.
A representative of the French movement Ecological
Generation proposes that Ecuador ''follow the example
of the United States, which, following the sinking
of the Exxon Valdez, passed a rigorous law regulating
''It breaks the heart of ecologists to see these dead
pelicans or seals having a hard time dragging themselves
across the sand as a result of the negligence of humans.
We have to realize that taking care of the Galapagos
is an expression of sensitivity,'' said the activist.