Submitted by Steve on 22:41, 16th Mar, 2017 | 0

On the 18th March 1967 Supertanker Torrey Canyon ran aground on rocks between Land's End and the Scilly Isles and leaked its cargo of oil into the sea.

The 974-ft (297m) tanker, which was carrying a cargo of 119,328 tonnes of crude oil, hit Pollard's Rock in the Seven Stones reef. The oil patch was believed to be the biggest ever to threaten the West Country coastline and the Channel Islands.

There were fears that the supertanker could catch fire or break-up in heavy seas.

The crew of the Liberian-registered Torrey Canyon were rescued by helicopters and lifeboats although the captain and three of his crew initially stayed on board.

In the weeks that followed the accident, oil escaped and spread along the shores of the south coast of England and the Normandy coast of France.

Worst hit were the Cornish beaches of Marazion and Prah Sands, where sludge was up to a foot deep. Up to 70 miles (113km) of beaches were seriously contaminated. More than 20,000 sea birds were contaminated by the oil as a result of the disaster.

Maurice Foley, Under Secretary for the Navy, said that it was the biggest problem of its kind ever faced by any nation and announced the Government would spend £500,000 on the south-west and Scilly Isles. The vessel was bombed for two days until it finally sank on 30 March 1967 and the oil slick was eventually dispersed by favourable weather.

For nearly 45 of the 50 years the GSPCA had been helping birds and animals being affected by the oil that leaked into our seas all those years ago.

When the clean up operation took place oil collected from the disaster was stored in a quarry in the North West of Guernsey.

Sadly this was an open area and despite many attempts even up until 2012 crude oil was clearly visible on the surface of the water in the quarry and can still be seen staining the walls of the water edge today.

This did mean that the GSPCA were regularly rescuing and caring for wildlife affected by the legacy of the Torrey Canyon.

In 2012 BBC Countryfile visited the island and featured the quarry which was at a time when many factors were in place to improve the water quality from micro-organisms to manually removing the surface oil.

During the summer of 2012 the GSPCA successfully rescued a Great Crested Grebe called Adele and a Kestrel called Olivia and both after a number of specialist washes and care were returned to the wild and we are overjoyed to report we haven't had a single rescue from the quarry since.

Steve Byrne GSPCA Manager said "For nearly 45 years at the GSPCA we were rescuing wildlife that were being affected by the oil spill from the Torrey Canyon disaster as the quarry where some of the oil was stored regularly trapped and killed birds and animals that thought it was a safe pool of water to rest or feed."

"We are so pleased to say that since the summer of 2012 we haven't had a single animal or bird needing rescuing from the quarry and after visiting today apart from the staining on the quarry walls there is no visible oil on the water surface."

"With so much oil having escaped from the Torrey Canyon Supertanker there is likely to be oil that settled on our sea beds around the coast and during stormy weather this can get churned up to the surface so it is possible that some of the oiled birds currently in our care could be as a result of this disaster but thankfully it is now rare other than during extreme weather to see oiled birds." 

"From 2012 when oil was clearly still visible on the surface to today where there was 2 ducks swimming on the surface the Torrey Canyon surface is a very different place but whether the water quality is ready for all wildlife to move into it is very unlikely."

Yvonne Chauvel Senior Animal Care Assistant said "Every stormy period and especially in winter we often see oiled birds washed up along our shores."

"We currently have a number of guillemots at the GSPCA that have been oiled and in our care and it is hard to say where that oil will have come from."

"In the 1990's we actually built an oiled bird unit which we now run as a wildlife unit as the numbers being affected by oils in our seas has gone down a lot to what we use to see, but it still has all of the sinks, equipment and pools just in case."

Steve continues "We work very closely with the States of Guernsey as if another disaster of oil or chemical occurred along our shores the GSPCA would be on the front line with their staff to help our wildlife and we have even held training sessions in recent years to ensure we are all prepared."

"We hope never to see another disaster like the Torrey Canyon but if anyone does come across an oiled bird we have a helpful web page or please call us immediately on 257261."

"At the GSPCA we rescue and help nearly 2000 wild animals and birds every year and without your support and donations we couldn't do so much."

For oiled bird advice please visit - http://gspca.org.gg/animals/wildlife-advice

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