Jan. 22, 2012 Charles Greene, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University, is an expert on the protection of threatened marine ecosystems. Greene comments on the potential for ecological disaster posed by the 2,300 tons of fuel oil still aboard the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia, half submerged on the rocks in the international Pelagos marine sanctuary off the Tuscan coast of Italy.
Greene says: "When the cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground last week, it was a disaster on so many levels. In addition to the humans killed and injured, the stricken ship's leakage of fuel oil could be disastrous for the local marine life.
"While not close to the scale of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Costa Concordia's grounding off the Italian island of Giglio falls within the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals. Created a decade ago by France, Italy and Monaco and located between Corsica and the Italian mainland, the sanctuary was set aside to protect many marine species including fin whales, sperm whales, dolphins, tuna, billfish and sharks. The Sanctuary is especially important to the protection of fin whales, which spend their summers feeding there.
"Fuel oil is particularly nasty stuff, much worse than diesel, and those responsible for cleaning up the 2,300 tons of it carried aboard the ship will have a difficult job on their hands if significant leakage occurs."
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