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Oil spill off Australia potential ‘disaster’ for marine wildlife

Oil is leaking from an offshore drilling rig in the Timor Sea near Australia’s Northwest coast. Authorities say it will be weeks before the leak is plugged: they are awaiting the arrival of a drilling rig from Singapore to plug the leak.

“This is a potential disaster for turtles, whales, dolphins, sea birds and sea snakes. The oil and gas spill is still not under control and is expected to continue leaking for two months. Depending on winds, the slick could be pushed to atolls like Scott and Ashmore Reef – areas that are globally significant for their unique wildlife,” warns Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, Conservation Manager with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia.

Currently measuring at least 85 kilometers, the spill is directly in the path of many migrating species, including loggerhead turtles, dolphins, and the pygmy blue whale, a subspecies of its larger relative. Tons of dispersant chemicals have been dropped in the contaminated water.

Llewellyn is especially concerned for sea turtle hatchlings. “[They] spend a huge amount of time on the surface of the water. Unfortunately, this means that recent hatchlings from the beaches and islands of North West Australia could be swimming into the slick,” she says.

Australian media has reported that there may have been a cover-up in the size and scale of the oil leak, after Australian Senator Rachel Siewet, a member of the Green Party, flew over the oil spill and claimed it was worse than people had been told and that it could reach Australia’s coast. She also said that she saw whales swimming near the oil.

Australia’s Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson denies Siewet’s report, saying that the spill is far from the coast (80 miles) and is dispersing in the water naturally.

It is estimated the drilling rig has been leaking 470,000 liters a day since August 21st. The rig is owned by Thailand-company PTTEP Australasia.

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