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10,000 Gallons of Oil Spills Into Chile’s Pristine Patagonia

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Chilean navy works to contain damage from the oil spill, on Guarello Island in Chile on July 27. Chilean Navy / Twitter

Forty-thousand liters (approximately 10,600 gallons) of diesel oil have spilled into the waters of Chile's Patagonia, a biodiversity hotspot at the tip of South America.


The Chilean navy confirmed the oil spill Saturday after receiving a call from CAP, a mining company, informing it of a spill from its terminal on Guarello Island, The Associated Press reported.

The oil spilled from the island, where CAP mines limestone, and out into the South Pacific Ocean, Reuters reported. Oceana Chile tweeted a map showing the affected area, along with the hope that the spill would not be of unspeakable proportions.

Greenpeace Chile also expressed concern over the potential damage, warning it could be "devastating."

"It's an extremely grave situation considering the pristine nature of the waters in which this environmental emergency has occurred," Greenpeace Chile Director Matías Asun said in a statement reported by CNN. "It must be considered that the zone is extremely difficult to access and that it is an area of great richness of marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, which could see themselves seriously affected in their habitat given that when coming to the surface to breathe they could meet this layer of oil."

The navy sent ships to control the damage and launched an investigation into its cause.

"The marine pollution control centre was activated," Third Naval Zone commander Ronald Baasch told local media, according to The Associated Press.

The navy announced that around 15,000 liters (approximately 4,000 gallons) had been contained as of Sunday, CNN reported.

CAP also said Sunday that the spill had been contained and that they were cooperating with the navy's investigation, Reuters further reported. The company said it had activated its procedure for controlling spills and containing damage.

"As an additional measure, a process of permanent monitoring of the area has been coordinated through a specialized foundation," the company's statement said.

Patagonia is a remote region at the southern tip of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile. The Wildlife Conservation Society described its scale:

All told, its terrestrial wilderness spans over a million square miles, roughly seven times the state of New York. Its waters cover 1.8 million square miles—about the size of Alaska. Together, these are home to some of the largest coastal colonies of marine mammals and birds anywhere.

Oil spills threaten marine life because they coat the water with residue, blocking light from entering marine ecosystems, Greenpeace Chile explained. They also spread toxins throughout the ocean environment, harming the ability of marine animals to feed themselves and reproduce.

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