Oil Exploration in South Africa: A Threat to Endangered Coelacanths

Coelacanths are one of the rarest fish in the world and can be found off the east coast of South Africa. They weigh nearly the same amount as an average-sized man and have been around for almost 400 million years. This makes them older than dinosaurs and one of the most unique sea creatures here on Earth. Unfortunately, there are barely thirty of them alive today, which places them on the endangered species list.

Coelacanths Discovery

Coelacanths first captured peoples’ attention in 1938 when one was caught near the coast of East London. Several more were captured in the 1950s, proving that they were not extinct. In 2000, divers were also able to find a small coelacanth colony in Sodwana Bay. This is next to the iSimangaliso wetland park in South Africa. It was said that these fish were unlike any other kind they had seen before.

Oil Exploration Near a Coelacanth Colony

Recent oil exploration has caused serious concern about these endangered species. An Italian energy group named Eni has planned to drill several deep-water oil wells in an exploration block near South Africa, known as Block ER236. This news has been disheartening to many people, including Dr. Andrew Venter, the leader of a lobbyist group called Wildtrust. He states the following: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 decimated fish populations – so if we had an oil spill off iSimangaliso it is very likely it could wipe out these coelacanths.” 

Tony Carnie at The Guardian reports that the coelacanths are about 40km away from the Eni exploration area and nearly 200km north of the first drilling sites. However, he believes that oil spills could definitely spread quickly. This is not a good sign for these fish because they are very sensitive to environmental disturbances.

Oil Drilling: A Threat to These Endangered Species?

The oil drilling could interfere with the coelacanths’ ability to absorb oxygen, causing a huge threat to survival. However, the oil company has responded to many fears by stating that “Prior to any operation we undertake sensitivity mapping to identify sensitive offshore marine habitat which guides our planning.” They ensure that they will be careful, but others are not so sure.

Coelacanth expert Mike Bruton fears that the colony could be destroyed. He says that “The risk needs to carefully evaluated before this commercial venture has progressed too far and it is too late. Oil spills do not respect the boundaries of marine protected areas.”

Do you agree with Mike Bruton and other conservationists? How do you feel about Eni being so close to the coelacanth colony?

Image Source: BBC

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