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Oil spill In Solomon Islands threatens World Heritage site

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Staff Writer | March 7, 2019
Solomon Trader
World   Solomon Trader

For more than a month, oil has been pouring out of a large ship that ran aground in the Solomon Islands next to a fragile UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship, called the Solomon Trader, got stuck when it was attempting to load bauxite during a cyclone on Feb. 5, Radio New Zealand reported. The island's reef tore a gash in the side of the ship, endangering what UNESCO describes as the "largest raised coral atoll in the world."

Since then, it has dispersed some 80 tons of heavy fuel oil into the sea and onto the shoreline, Australian authorities say, and more than 650 tons are still on the ship.

"There is a high risk the remaining heavy fuel oil on the vessel ... will be released into the surrounding area," Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

Aerial footage taken by the Australian government shows the spill extends about 3 1/2 miles across the shore of Rennell Island and is moving closer to the World Heritage site.

About 1,200 people live within the World Heritage site on the east side of the island, according to UNESCO, and they live "mainly by subsistence gardening, hunting and fishing."

UNESCO calls the site a "true natural laboratory for scientific study." It contains many species that exist only in this area. The site contains thick forest and the brackish Lake Tegano, which contains many unique limestone formations.

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