February 1, 2006

Estonian oil slick could kill up to 5,000 water birds

By David Maridste

TALLINN (Reuters) - A thick oil slick which has landed on
the shores of northwest Estonia could kill as many as 5,000
birds, including swans and a rare breed of duck,
environmentalists in the Baltic state said on Wednesday.

The oil spill of about 20 tonnes, whose source is being
investigated, was first reported on the Estonian coast on
Saturday, but was initially believed to have a limited impact.

However further reports from bird watchers have confirmed
that as many as 5,000 birds are expected to perish.

"The oil has coated the feathers of many birds including
swans and the rare long-tailed duck, which summers in Sweden
and Norway and winters in Estonian waters," said Estonian Fund
For Nature spokeswoman Kristel Toom.

"The impact on the long-tailed duck will be felt in the
region," said Jari Luukkonen, Conservation Co-ordinator for the
World Wildlife Fund, Finland.

Conservationists especially fear for the population of the
long-tailed duck, known as Clangula hyemalis.

The long-tailed duck breeds in much of Iceland, Norway and
the mountainous parts of Sweden. Experts say wintering birds
can be seen, mostly at sea, from several sites in Scotland,
Holland and the Baltic countries.

BirdGuides (www.birdguides.com) has estimated that about
8,000 to 18,000 pairs breed in Europe.

A farmer who lives on an island off the coast of northwest
Estonia told Reuters on Wednesday that there was a scant supply
of resources on her island to deal with the problem.

"On Osmusaare island ... we have about 1,000 birds that are
coated in oil," said Katrin Koppel, who said she was trying to
rescue the birds.

She added that many of the birds would die before help
arrives to treat them.

Environmentalists said birds coated in oil have also been
seen off the southwest coast of Finland.

They add that weather conditions are not helping matters.

The Estonian weather forecasting service predicts that
temperatures will fall to -15 to -20 degrees Celsius (5 to -4
degrees Fahrenheit) by the weekend.