A group of men cleaning up the coastline between Algeciras and Gibraltar following the wrecking of a fuel tanker


© Reuters / Anton Meres


On 30th January 2007 in Algeciras (Spain), following the wrecking of an oil tanker, an impossibly large quantity of fuel spilled into the sea, reaching as far as the coasts of Gibraltar. It is not the first time we have heard of such episodes, but how much importance do we actually attribute to them? It is useful to remember that this type of pollution does not just involve aquatic ecosystems because every element of our Earth system interacts more or less directly with the others. As well as discharging its toxic contents into the entire water column, fuel creates a film on the water surface which blocks the exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean, fundamental for adjusting the chemical and physical parameters of the two environments. In recent decades, Spain has implemented sea management strategies to prevent illegal discharging of these materials into the seawater. But what do you do in situations like the Algeciras case, where the spillage is totally accidental? Similar events occurred in other parts of the world in the years that followed. A further example of this was the ship that ran aground off Tauranga in October 2011, whose fuel spilled into the sea and caused what was defined one of the worst environmental disasters ever in New Zealand.

Stefania Bianco