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Oil Slick Threatens Lebanese Coast

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Oil Slick Threatens Lebanese Coast

Environment

Oil Slick Threatens Lebanese Coast

Oil Slick Threatens Lebanese Coast

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Tons of oil spilled into the Mediterranean sea after Israeli warplanes bombed storage tanks near Beirut in the first days of the conflict. Environmentalists worry that if the slick isn't contained soon it could damage the fragile ecosystem.

DON GONYEA, Host:

NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF OCEAN WAVES)

JACKIE NORTHAM: On any other warm summer day, the white sandy beaches here around Jieh - a resort town about 15 miles south of Beirut - would be packed with sun worshippers. Not now.

(SOUNDBITE OF OCEAN WAVES)

NORTHAM: Joseph Mahsoud(ph) owns a resort just south of the storage tanks. He looks at the pall of smoke nearby, then points to the sludge about three-feet broad that's now covering the beach next to his business.

JOSEPH MAHSOUD: (Through Translator) The fuel is all over the water and the beach and the sand. The fish in the water are dead. My business is gone.

NORTHAM: The oil slick that's hit Jieh's beaches is being pushed by wind and currents northward to Beirut and beyond.

WAEL HMAIDAN: This is a map. We did some mapping a few days ago. We went by land and went along the shore. This is the best map now available on this issue, but we are updating it constantly.

NORTHAM: Wael Hmaidan is with Green Line, a Lebanese group of environmentalists focusing on this oil spill. Hamaydin says that the oil slick has hit more than 40 percent of Lebanon's beaches, affecting a fragile ecosystem and marine life. Turtles are particularly vulnerable.

HMAIDAN: And about this time, sea turtle's eggs start to hatch. So baby sea turtles get out of the nest on sandy beaches and try to make their way into the sea. Now, in Jieh area, it's a huge sandy beach covered from beginning to end by oil. It is full of turtle nests now that are going to hatch, and they're all going to die. All of them.

NORTHAM: Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N.'s Environment Program, says it's crucial to get help into the area now.

ACHIM STEINER: Our greatest concern right now is that access to the area is facilitated because every day that passes will make it more difficult to deal with the clean up operation, and also its impact on shore as oil seeps into the sands on the beaches.

NORTHAM: Yacoub al-Sarraf, Lebanon's environment minister, says the oil has already hit the Syrian coastline.

YACOUB A: I cannot be optimistic about the ordeal that the eastern Mediterranean is going to deal with - not only Lebanon. And now we are throwing an appeal not only for Lebanon. We're throwing an appeal to try to prevent our neighboring countries from being hit the same way we were.

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Beirut.

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