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Government Big Fail with a Palm Oil spill in Algarve – how will they cope with an Oil spill?

This past week, on Tuesday 3 January, saw our beaches in the south coast of the Algarve polluted by palm oil. It started with the appearance of a white foam substance at sea, which quickly found its way onto the beaches of Ria Formosa islands of Armona, Deserta and Fuzeta, and was later identified as being palm oil.

Although the Port officials in Olhão where quick on the scene, and other various supporting environmental, civic organisations and local councils where soon involved as well, what really worries us at ASMAA, was the urgent call put out by Rui Nunes Ferreira, the Commandant of Olhão Port for volunteers to help clean-up the mess which covered over 5 Km of beach area.

Looking back to October last year, when the exercise and mini-conference "Preserving the Marine Environment" was conducted in Portimaõ as a proof that Portugal was capable of dealing with any environmental disasters resulting from oil slicks, what happened this past week clearly negates these assurances.

After the exercise, we were left with the idea that Portugal had the full human resources capacity to deal with such oil spills, without having to depend on civilians as volunteers to help. But if we had any doubts, it is now clear that the Algarve is not really fully equipped or prepared to deal with the risks of spills from oil exploration or transportation without the full support of "untrained" volunteers from the public.


So, it begs the question: Why is Portugal hell bent on continuing on this disastrous deep offshore oil and gas exploration path?


Palm oil spills in other countries

On 5 April, a massive palm oil spill landed on many UK beaches, and a strong warning went out about the dangers that palm oil poses to children and pets. Read more about it here.

According to the article referred to above, these "rocks"congealed palm oil are deadly, and like what happened in the UK, the same happened here in the Algarve. These "rocks" are known as fatbergs, they are blobs that smell like diesel and are covered in killer germs.

One warning in UK, came from a TV vet (Marc Abraham) who warned British animal owners to take a wide berth with their pets when on a beach that the fatbergs have invaded. He went on to say: 'Dogs will pick up anything on the beach, from pebbles, to food to palm oil. In the Algarve we have heard NO WARNINGS by vets, or by the authorithies about risks.


According to experts: These things can cause two-fold problems, the first is gastro, the second is foreign body obstructions. As the palm oil is so gelatinous it can get lodged in the oesophagus and require emergency surgery.


'If you think your dog has swallowed something it shouldn't, contact your vet immediately.'

One Vet surgery in Newquay, Cornwall, issued a warning earlier after staff had to give life-saving treatment to five dogs. The pets had collapsed in agony after scoffing the waxy blobs scattered on beaches. We've got to take into account that dogs love the smell of the palm oil but, laced with poisonous bacteria, even a small taste can kill them.


When similar palm oil boulders were washed up in 2014, dozens of dogs needed treatment and several died. In June of that year, Freddie, a three-year-old Labradoodle, was rushed to a canine hospital for a series of life-saving operations after he gulped down lumps of the tropical import on a walk along Kingsand beach near Saltash, Cornwall.


Unlike the "Cornwall Council", which put up notices informing the locals and beach users, the authorities in the affected areas of the Algarve have not put up any  signs on these beaches as a precaution, to inform beach users of the situation. Although the deposits are believed to be the same substance which was described as being a non-toxic, degraded, edible oil or fat, it sounds like that what we've experienced in the Algarve is a similar situation occurred two years ago in the Cornwall area.



Please keep your dog on a lead as there have been reports in the past that the substance could be dangerous for dogs if they eat a large amount of it, and keep small children away from it too. People should keep away from it, and iIf you do come into contact with it, please wash it off using normal soap or shower gel and water and wash your clothes, and especially dog owners ... please be vigilant.


The bottom line?

Why haven't the Portuguese authorities issued a warning? If they do that with this type of situation, what can we expect if there is an OIL SPILL, or any other types of chemical spills? Total silence about the risks?


Risks to the Environment

  1. Immediate effect: oiling of the coastline and birds as with petroleum products but without their toxicity (due, amongst other things, to the aromatics) unless large quantities of oil are ingested, except for benthic fauna which could become asphyxiated.
  2. Persistence: no accumulation. Apart from polymerisation, slow but fairly complete biodegradation which reduces the oxygen dissolved in water more significantly than for hydrocarbons (depending on the agitation and temperature of the environment).
  3. Effect on amenities: possible, owing to a nauseating smell linked to the bacterial degradation process (tourism, mariculture, sensitive areas)."

Source of risks to environment: Vegetable Oil Spills at Sea
Article: Daily Mail
Photo credit: SOS Ria Formosa

PT RTP: Link here in Portuguese

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