Impact of Rayong oil spill on corals may take at least a year to emerge

A worker cleans up crude oil on Mae Ram Phueng beach following a spill caused by a leak in an undersea pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited (SPRC) in Rayong on January 29, 2022. Jack TAYLOR / AFP

Marine scientists at Chulalongkorn University say that it may take a year or more for impacts from the recent oil spill in the sea off Rayong province to manifest on corals in the area.

Divers from a research team at the Marine Resources Research Institute of the Faculty of Science at Chulalongkorn University have collected samples of sea water, sediment and marine life from the affected area to study the presence of hydrocarbons and dispersants, which impact marine environment.

The institute’s director, Professor Dr. Voranop Viyakarn, said that, from his previous experience, environmental impact assessments after a massive oil spill and clean-up operations were not thoroughly and comprehensively conducted, particularly regarding the impact on the corals.

On the surface, the corals may look fine, but the inner part of the corals, which are not visible, may be badly affected by the chemicals, noting that all the chemicals are harmful to the marine environment and it will take a long time before the effects are displayed.

He also said that it remains to be seen whether the surroundings of the affected area will be affected and by how much.

Meanwhile, Dr. Suchana Chavanich, the institute’s deputy director, said that, in lab tests, chemicals from oil and dispersants cause corals to become barren or stop breeding.

If corals stop breeding temporarily, it may take 3-5 years for them to return to normal and start breeding again.

She also noted that the recent oil spill in the sea off Rayong coincided with the breeding season of corals, which normally takes place from February through April. 


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