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China Clams Up on Oil Spill in Great Barrier Reef

So far, the Chinese government has neither apologized nor acknowledged the grounding of the Shen Neng 1, a freighter carrying coal that went aground in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, violating regulations protecting the marine reserve. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expressed the dismay felt by many Australians, telling the press yesterday, “From where I sit, it is outrageous that any vessel could find itself 12 kilometers off course, it seems, in the Great Barrier Reef.” Fortunately, most of the fuel oil on the freighter remains on board, for now, and salvage specialists will attempt to transfer it out of harm’s way. But as long as the ship remains grounded, the vessel poses a hazard, at risk of breaking up during heavy swells. The accident underlines the peril facing Australia’s unique reef ecosystem and the host of endangered species that find a home there, including dugong, a variety of sea turtles, and today’s Endangered All-Star, the Giant Clam. Once common in shallow tropical reefs throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Giant Clam has become locally extinct in many areas: Fijian waters haven’t produced a Giant in half a century. The clams are coveted by aquarium collectors and are over-harvested, considered a great delicacy in Japan. If Australia gets tough on the freighter’s owners—who could be liable for a $5 million fine, according to the New York Times—it might act as a precedent and a deterrent.
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