Galapagos Island Oil Spill in 2001

This Galapagos Island oil spill review was prepared by the Charles Darwin Foundation located in this Archipelago.


A tanker smashed into the rocky coastline when it mistook a buoy for a light house. The ship, called THE JESSICA, dumped thousands of gallons of oil into the bay of San Cristobal Galapagos Island.

Oil was still leaking from the grounded ship and emergency mitigation work was in progress, it required several weeks of systematic surveys and research to assess the immediate impact of the spill. However, in response to worldwide concern, the Charles Darwin Foundation provided this overview.

The US Coast Guard and Ecuadorian Navy managed to remove a little of the fuel from the stricken vessel, but most of the cargo of a quarter of a million gallons of diesel and bunker fuel were in the sea.

This was a major oil spill by standard measures used in Ecuador and the USA, and extremely serious in a place as unique and rich in Wildlife as Galapagos

Fortunately, several factors combined to reduce the impacts of this Galapagos Island oil spill and the ecosystem recovered fully.

The currents and winds took the oil west and north, away into deeper waters. Had the oil moved the other way, the shores of San Cristobal Island where the ship foundered, would have been devastated.

The oil was dispersed in an ever-thinning pattern of ribbons, surface films and denser patches over a wide area of ocean, including the islands of Santa Fe and Santa Cruz. Intense sunshine accelerated evaporation of the diesel.

The ship was carrying diesel and the much thicker, stickier bunker fuel. Thecargo leaked slowly over a period of days and it permitted the great majority of it to be carried offshore and also allowed the diesel and bunker fuel to mix, rendering the bunker fuel less viscous and more easily broken up.

From the day the Galapagos Island oil spill started the Galapagos National Park, Charles Darwin Research Station, local volunteers and fishermen worked hard to clean up the oil, prevent it coming ashore and check for oiled wildlife.

The research station set up simple rehabilitation centers and expert assistance was sent to deal with any oiled seabirds and sea-lions. By then, small numbers of seabirds and Galapagos Sea Lions where affected.

The Ecuadorian Navy and a well-equipped, expert team from the U.S. Coastguard dealt with the grounded ship. It was a hazardous work.

Once the flow of oil was completely stopped, there was a systematic evaluation of the impact and clean-up of affected areas, for which the Park Service had the advice of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

During these years, the Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station have been monitoring affected sites and vulnerable species, such as the lava gull and marine iguana.

The control of the spill, the clean-up, ecological monitoring and development of the capability to prevent and manage future disasters in Galapagos are all expensive tasks, for which international funding is needed.

But the costs are minimal compared to the value of the pristine nature to be protected. In conclusion, thanks mainly to climate and currents, the impacts of this major Galapagos Island oil spill on the Galapagos Ecology was not severe.

See Beautiful Galapagos Island Pictures here

However, relief should not lead us to neglect the need for a great deal of mitigation, ecological monitoring, disaster prevention and contingency planning, for which Ecuador will need international assistance.

Dr Robert Bensted-Smith,
Charles Darwin Research Station

As for now, thanks to the efforts made by the Charles Darwin Research Station, to clean this Galapagos Island oil spill, the Islands are again healthy.

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides). Click to order from Amazon

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading!

There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.


Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands. Click to order from Amazon

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers.

Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!


Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in.

Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!


Moon Spotlight Galapagos. Click to order from Amazon

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier.

But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you.

Small, well-priced, and reliable!


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table.

This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


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If you have any questions about the Galapagos Island oil spill, or these Islands, You can post them on our Galapagos FAQ Page And if you'd like to request more information about our recommended Galapagos Cruises to explore these Islands, You can Contact us here

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