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Marine Biologist Elliot Norse: Galapagos Oil Spill 'Worrisome'

Aired January 23, 2001 - 1:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WATERS: A massive oil spill continues to threaten the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands; that is about 600 miles off Ecuador's west coast. The oil leak began last Friday after the tanker "Jessica" ran aground near the island of San Cristobal, one of 60 named islands in that chain.

For some insight into how the spill could affect the island's many unique animals and birds, and on the land itself, I am joined on the phone by Elliot Norse. He is president of the Marine Conversation Biology Institute.

Mr. Norse, what is your understanding of how bad this situation is?

ELLIOT NORSE, MARINE BIOLOGIST: This a worrisome oil spill, because it affects one of the world's most important places for marine biodiversity.

WATERS: Our recent experience has been that of the Valdez oil disaster. Is there anything comparable in this one?

NORSE: Well, this is a smaller oil spill. But, on the other hand, the place that it's affecting is really precious. The Galapagos has many species of living things that are found nowhere else in the world; birds like the Waved Albatros and the Galapagos Penguin; the Galapagos Marine Iguana. And these things are vulnerable to oil because oil, of the kind that is spilled, is sticky and it's toxic, it coats them, it gets in their eyes and in their noses and in their stomachs.

WATERS: And it also, as I understand, part of this load aboard the Jessica tanker was an oil that sinks to the bottom, can cover the algae below, which disrupts the food chain.

NORSE: Well, this is true. Most people think of the oil spill only in terms of the surface of the water. But that oil goes some place and, in many cases, after if weathers a little bit, it sinks. And so it affects the fishes and marine invertebrates on the seabed. And that is a big problem in and of itself. It is not just the birds and mammals and reptiles we are worried about.

WATERS: You call it is a "worrisome situation." How worried are you for the long-term effects of this spill? NORSE: We won't know all of the effects of this spills for years. But I am deeply concerned because the spill is moving toward the west, where it will encounter other Galapagos Islands. These islands, many of them, have their own groups of organisms that are not even found on other Galapagos Islands. And we can't afford to lose any of these species to extinction.

WATERS: For sure. Thank you so much, sir, Elliot Norse. He is the president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute on the environmental disaster in the Galapagos, often referred to as the enchanted islands, in trouble today.

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