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Naturwissenschaften. 2004 Nov;91(11):535-8. Epub 2004 Oct 13.

European Atlantic: the hottest oil spill hotspot worldwide.

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Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics and Zoological Museum, University of Amsterdam, 1090 GT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Oil spills caused by maritime transport of petroleum products are still an important source of ocean pollution, especially in main production areas and along major transport routes. We here provide a historical and geographic analysis of the major oil spills (>700 t) since 1960. Spills were recorded from several key marine ecosystems and marine biodiversity hotspots. The past four decades have been characterized by an overall decrease in the number of accidents and tones of oil spilled in the sea, but this trend was less distinct in the European Atlantic area. Recent black tides from the Erika and Prestige vessels provided new evidence for the high risk of accidents with serious ecological impact in this area, which according to our analysis is historically the most important oil spill hotspot worldwide. The English Channel and waters around Galicia in Spain were the areas with most accidents. Maritime transport in European Atlantic waters has been predicted to continue increasing. Together with our own results this suggests that, in addition to measures for increased traffic safety, deployment of emergency capacities in the spill hotspot areas may be crucial for a sustainable conservation of sea resources and ecosystems.

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