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Galapagos Islands

Marine iguanas die from trace oil pollution

A near-miss ecological disaster still left a sinister aftermath for these giant lizards.


An oil tanker ran aground on the Galapagos island of San Cristóbal on 17 January 2001, spilling roughly three million litres of diesel and bunker oil. The slick started to spread westwards1 and was dispersed by strong currents, so only a few marine animals were killed immediately as a result. Here we draw on long-term data sets gathered before the spill to show that a population of marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on Santa Fe island suffered a massive 62% mortality in the year after the accident, due to a small amount of residual oil contamination in the sea. Another population on the more remote island of Genovesa was unaffected.

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Figure 1: The tanker Jessica ran aground in the Galapagos archipelago in January 2001.


Figure 2: Effect on marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) of low-level oil contamination.


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Correspondence to Martin Wikelski.

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finanical, declared none; M.W. and the Galapagos National Park are in legal dispute with Petroecuador.

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Wikelski, M., Wong, V., Chevalier, B. et al. Marine iguanas die from trace oil pollution. Nature 417, 607–608 (2002).

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