When residents in Brasilito awoke on Monday, Oct. 31, they discovered a beach covered in debris and fuel. A fishing boat had struck a coral reef, according to the boat’s captain, and was completely destroyed, spilling 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the ocean.
On Wednesday morning, neighbors came together and decided to clean up the beach after two days of breathing diesel fumes from the fuel spilled into the ocean.
“There was a lot of debris from the boat on the entire beach. Everything on that boat was lost to the sea,” especially in Brasilito, where there are many waves,” said Marie-Cécile Béal, director of the Oceanology Institute, who works in the region.
Today the beach is clean, thanks to volunteers from the community who were summoned by the institute and local businesses.
Still, the greatest concern – and the biggest unknown – is the impact the diesel fuel will have.
What Damages Will the Spill Cause?
Experts and authorities agree that diesel fuel evaporates quickly and doesn’t dissolve in water, so damage will be limited. But some marine species are still in danger.
Jenaro Acuña, chemical oceanography expert at the University of Costa Rica’s Ocean and Freshwater Research Center, said damage caused by a diesel spill is much less than that caused by an oil spill because the effects are temporary.
“It doesn’t mix with the water so it will evaporate,” he said.
Both Acuña and Nelson Soto, of the Public Works and Transport Ministry’s Navigation Department, hope environmental damage in the area will be minimal.
The species that could be in danger are plankton, zooplankton and phytoplankton, which could die from ingesting diesel. Some fish also could be intoxicated.
“For now, we haven’t seen any dead fish, and since Wednesday, the water seems clean from the coast. But on Monday and Tuesday, there was a fuel film. We don’t know what the level of contamination will be for mollusks, crustaceans and other species,” Béal said.
Víctor Ruiz, a local businessman who also is a marine scientist, said his biggest concern is the wind in recent days, which has kept the fuel in the bay and spread it toward Puerto Viejo.
Despite no immediate serious risk to the ecosystem, both experts and local residents agree that the response by authorities to the accident was painfully slow and will be a determining factor for the eventual consequences of the spill.
“Now (authorities are) responding, but the problem is they were supposed to respond immediately after the accident. Damage could have been mitigated. They weren’t there on Monday, so we filed a complaint at MINAE (the Environment Ministry) and they didn’t arrive until yesterday (Wednesday) to clean it up,” Béal said.
The area around Brasilito has three estuaries and a mangrove, and you can find diverse species such as turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and many birds. According to Béal, the institute has compiled a registry with neighbors that to date lists 500 species of animals and plants.