By Madiba Singhateh
Mr Nfarama Drammeh, a seasoned environmentalist in an interview with Foroyaa, said certainly Gambia does not have the capacity to clean-up oil or deal with oil spillage.
He added that the recent press release by NEA asking for help, has revealed or justified that their preparedness level is low.
After the Oil Spill at the Mandinari Depot, Kombo North, Foroyaa assigned a team of reporters to investigate and report what exactly happened.
During the course of the investigations, reporters were told by fishermen, oysters’ women farmers and workers at the depot that there was indeed an oil spill as a result of a corroded pipe at the said depot.
Fishermen and oyster farmers, who mainly depend on the marine, expressed challenges and how the 70,000 metric tonnes spillage had affected their livelihoods.
The National Environment Agency (NEA), in collaboration with other stakeholders, namely, Public Utilities and Regulatory Authority (PURA), Gambia Maritime Administration (GMA), Gam Petroleum (GP), National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and two others held a Press Conference informing the media about a cleansing exercise to wipe out the oil from the marine system. However, they highlighted that if the problem cannot be solved domestically, then international support will be solicited.
In our quest to know the environmental impacts and disseminate the truth in the interest of the public, Foroyaa continues to engage environmentalists on the impacts of the spill and how harmful it could be in the ecosystem.
In an interview with Omar Sambou, commonly known as (Malmo) and Nfamara Drammeh, renowned environmentalists, on the oil spill, they explained that oil spillage can harm living things because its chemical constituents are poisonous and it can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through the skin.
Mr. Sambou said oil can also smother some small species of fish or invertebrates, coat feathers and fur, reducing birds’ and mammals’ ability to maintain their body temperatures and simply leads to marine biodiversity loss.
“The Tanbi Wetlands will be affected for the meantime and that it is not advisable to be feeding the masses with catch from that end.
“It is a spooning ground for fish and a habitat for birds and other marine creatures. To avoid the poisoning of the food chain, a quick response is needed to prevent a disaster,” said Sambou.
Speaking further, he said mangroves are highly susceptible to oil exposure and that oiling may kill them within a few weeks to several months. He noted that lighter oils are more acutely toxic to mangroves than heavier oils.
Mr Sambou explained that they are aware that the spillage was heavy oil, adding that oil toxicity situations for many other intertidal environments and the mangrove-related biological resources are at risk in a spill situation because they can be affected physically. He said as a result of toxicological effects of the petroleum, the fish, crabs, oysters, shrimp, can get toxic if they contact poisonous oil chemicals.
“Even if a petroleum product is not especially toxic in its own right, when oil physically covers plants and animals, they may die from suffocation, starvation, or other physical interference with normal physiological function. If any toxic chemical gets into the food chain through the marine organisms, this could have significant harm to the population that feeds on it,” he said.
“Oil spillage can cause long term negative effects on marine species and their habitats, especially nesting or breeding grounds for species of marine turtles that lay their eggs on shore.”
He said the turtle eggs contaminated by oil can fail to develop properly and the newly hatched turtles moving from the shore to the ocean can get stuck in an oily environment.
Speaking on the total clean-up, Drammeh said unfortunately Gambia does not have the capacity to clean-up oil or deal with oil spillage.
On what can be done on a short-term or long-term basis, Mr. Sambou said the affected area is a RAMSAR site and important for migratory birds, noting that the spillages are more dangerous for birds because oil floats.
“Therefore, artisanal fishermen should be advised to avoid catching in the affected areas to prevent polluting the food chain, which can be disastrous,” he warned.
“There should be a mapping of the affected areas and signboards to communicate as disaster-prone for the period.”
He said the public should be informed regularly on the state of affairs and that a quick toxicological investigation and impact studies should be conducted to establish potential harm.
However, environmentalist Drammeh is not optimistic that The Gambia has the human and material resources to conduct such studies and potential clean-up activities.
Meanwhile, his colleague (Sambou), who earlier dwelt on the matter, is of the view that prevention is the most ideal because they do not have the human resource, material, and technological capacity to handle spills.
“Oil spills can cause deadly tolls on fish, shellfish (oyster and shrimps) and other marine life especially if many fish eggs or larvae are exposed to oil,” said Sambou
“Our water birds can be affected by even a small amount of oil spills if their feathers get wet by oil. This will not only make it impossible for them to fly but also destroy their natural waterproofing and insulation leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia or overheating.”