Oil spill could take a month to clean
Workers clean up the oil that has spilled on to the coast of Moreton Island.
Photo: Brendan Esposito
IN THE early morning, when it's cool, you can roll the oil off the pristine sand of Moreton Island like a honey crust, but by midday, with the sun beating directly down, the oozing black substance sticks like molasses to the beach.
Queensland's Labor Government will be praying it doesn't stick to them in the same way at the state poll next weekend. Deputy Premier Paul Lucas flew into the heart of the disaster zone yesterday to assure Queenslanders the Government's much criticised response was careful, not negligent, as 350 workers arrived to kick-start the clean-up.
"It's like cleaning fine china rather than digging turf," he explained, grabbing a pair of gloves to get his own hands dirty in the toxic goo.
From an initial estimate of 30 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea eight kilometres east of the island, Mr Lucas said it now looked like 230 tonnes had spilled from the cargo ship Pacific Adventurer.
"There was no use cleaning up while a significant amount of oil remained in the water. The next tide would bring more in," Mr Lucas said.
Premier Anna Bligh said yesterday that while Bribie Island was already 95 per cent clean, Moreton Island posed particular challenges. "Moreton Island is a very fragile ecosystem and does not have major formed roads, it does not have massive accommodation for hundreds of people," Ms Bligh said in Brisbane.
Brad Kitchen, head of decontamination on Moreton Island's eastern coastline, said the scale of the spill had worsened in the past few days.
"A bit of oil goes a long way," he said, looking north at the black-scarred sand stretching close to 20 kilometres from Eagers Creek to Cape Moreton.
The oil crust is on average two millimetres thick but up to five millimetres in places.
At the entrance to Eagers Creek, the oil has turned the tidal inlet into a sludge pond. Ngugi elder Robert Anderson visited the island for the first time since the spill yesterday.
"A few weeks ago, we were travelling up and down the beach collecting our traditional foods, singing up our ancestors. I understand the spill is moving down past Eager's Creek, where we have our cultural centre. We're devastated, we feel violated," he said.
Life on Moreton Island is now at two extremes. On the isolated ocean side, it is a disaster zone. On the western side, life goes on as normal at Tangalooma Resort.
A group of mainland volunteers arrived on the morning ferry yesterday for a previously arranged Clean Up Australia program. But they were not allowed near the spill.
Premier Bligh said the clean-up needed to be handled in a systematic and careful way. "We run a risk, if we don't do it systematically, of having well-meaning people turn up and actually spreading the oil and doing further damage to the dunes and other sensitive areas," she said.
The Brisbane City Council and road crews will be joined by 200 State Emergency Service personnel today.
So far, no wildlife has been killed by the spill, but one oiled sea snake and one turtle have been sent to Seaworld for treatment. Mark Jenkins, a marine biologist at Tangalooma Resort, yesterday lured a pelican, smudged with oil, into a trap set in the sand with fish bait.
"He isn't heavily coated but he does have enough oil on him, on his chest and wing, to cause harm if it was ingested. When he preens, it could make him very sick," said Mr Jenkins, who has rescued five pelicans in the three days since the oil spill.
The birds are being taken back to the mainland for care by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The pelican colony on Moreton Island was migratory, and oiled birds were showing up on the mainland, he said.
Trevor Hassard, a director at the resort, said the ecological damage to the island was devastating. "It rips your heart out." He was also concerned about the missing 31 containers of ammonium nitrate.
"I know that there is 600 tonnes of fertiliser out there somewhere and that's a big worry for Moreton Island and south-east Queensland."
At the current rate of cleaning — one kilometre of beach per day, it would take close to a month to complete the island's clean-up, he said.
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