The oil spill that wreaked havoc in the Kerch Strait leading to the Black Sea last week will take at least 5 to 10 years for the marine environment to recover, says WWF.
According to WWF specialists, the 2000-tonne spill has badly affected the local fishing industry. Fish caught in the Kerch Strait are not safe for consumption.
The spill has also threatened birds. About 11 endangered species inhabit the area around the strait, including the Dalmatian pelican and great black-headed gull, and many more migrating birds will be wintering in this area in the coming months.
Thanks to the efforts of clean-up crews, including WWF staff and members, some birds have been rescued. However, these activities can only help save a very small percentage of the thousands of affected birds. Two dolphins have also been found washed up on shore where clean-up operations are being conducted, but their chances of survival are slim. The Black Sea is home to common and bottlenose dolphins.
'Although it is practically impossible to completely eliminate the damage caused by the large oil spill,' said Igor Chestin, CEO of WWF-Russia, 'we believe that to avoid such disasters in the future drastic changes need to be made in the oil transportation system; oil pollution laws need to be enacted.'
To avoid such accidents in the future, WWF and other environmental NGOs are developing recommendations for the Russian government, which include:
- Local volunteers should be trained to respond to oil spills (WWF has already been training clean-up teams on the Russian coast of the Barents Sea for several years).
- Oil export via the river-sea corridor should be stopped, and river vessels not suited for marine conditions should be instructed to enter ports.
- Russia should develop a legislative base for oil spills, similar to the US Oil Pollution Act adopted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and should set up an independent agency responsible for environmental protection.
According to Alexey Knizhnikov, head of WWF-Russia's oil and gas project, there is a prepared draft law introducing the 'polluter pays' principle and environmental insurance. However, they have not been approved by the State Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament).
'If these draft law is approved, many problems will be solved, as companies will feel more responsible for the risks they take,' says Knizhnikov.
'We hope that this accident will spur the process in adopting these laws and creating such an agency.'