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September 6, 2017

Sepa clueless as oil slick forms off Clifton beach


September 6, 2017

Sindh’s environmental watchdog is clueless about the oil slick off the Clifton beach that reportedly formed on Monday, making it difficult for beachgoers and picnickers to enjoy their day out on the third day of Eidul Azha.

NGOs and visitors to the beach said the oil spill had spread between McDonald’s and Village Restaurant and then extended beyond Devil’s Point. On May 20 a similar slick had formed off the Sandspit beach. Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), however, is not bothered about the latest spill in the least, as no official of the watchdog has visited the area to investigate the cause of the slick.

“I have heard about the oil slick and issued directives to my staff to look into it,” Sepa chief Baqaullah Unar told The News on Tuesday. “So far we have no clue about the damage and cause of the spill. Our experts will visit the area tomorrow [on Wednesday].”

On the other hand, WWF-Pakistan sent its team to the beach and found out that the slick was not widely spread in seaward direction and was restricted to the intertidal area.

They also found out that the oil had already weathered and was emulsified, and that it was in the advanced stages of dilution so it did not seem to pose any immediate threat to the marine fauna and flora. But they warned beachgoers to stay away until the seawater was free from slick.

“It is likely that the slick formed due to release from oil-reception facilities or leakage from a passing ship,” said WWF-P’s Dr Muhammad Moazzam Khan. “The oil was ultimately pushed by high monsoon winds and currents, finally making its way to Clifton.”

Khan said the weathered oil was now stranded at an intertidal area, mainly accumulating at the high-tide watermark, leaving black lines or globs of oil on the beach as the tides receded. He said natural processes, including sun, high temperatures, winds and waves, would gradually weather the oil in the event that it remained on the beach. “With both physical and chemical changes, asphalt-like tar balls are formed that eventually result in the beached oil breaking apart and finally disappearing.”

He stressed that tracking of oil spills should be carried out to ensure that the slicks did not move towards sensitive marine habitats or biodiversity hotspots. The WWF-P team reported that the oil was further emulsified and could be seen at the wave break. They made the assurance that no damage to marine life was observed except a few dead fishes that inhabited shallow waters along the coastline, but there was no fear of mass fish mortality any more.

They said that since it was summer, no migratory birds, especially waders, were observed in the area, adding that there was no dead animal on the beach except a sub-adult green turtle with a damaged carcass, which seemed to be a bit older so its death could not be attributed to the slick.

Dr Babar Khan, Sindh and Balochistan chief for WWF-P, said there was no immediate threat to the turtle beach as the wind and wave circulation pattern from west to east was currently under the influence of a south-westerly monsoon.

He, however, cautioned that there was s a need to monitor the affected and adjoining areas. He said the slick off the Clifton and Sandspit beaches required the authorities to be more vigilant and to strengthen the mitigation measures.

Fingerprints should also be used to know the source of present and previous oil slicks so that necessary measures can be taken in time to avoid future disasters, he added.

“Containment and removal of oil spills is also required so that the marine ecosystem, including rare and unique aquatic fauna, physical infrastructure and beachgoers are safe.”

The News has learnt that teams of National Institute of Oceanography and Karachi Port Trust have collected samples from the affected area and that WWF-P is coordinating with them.