Pollutant spills on our coasts have a significant impact on the marine environment, also affecting people’s quality of life. They must be monitored without interruption to assess their area of impact and carry out an economic sanction according to the damage caused. However, up to now there is no efficient and economical monitoring system, and as a result, the sanctions are minimal, since the extent of said spills is unknown.
A recent study conducted by the University of Arizona analyzed a total of three oil spill incidents to assess the efficiency of satellite imagery, using a simple methodology that can be used by any government environmental agency seeking to care for marine ecosystems and people’s health, also improving the sanctioning process at the national level. Currently there is no monitoring of coastal spills at the country level to efficiently evaluate potential events, magnitude of impact, displacement plume and areas that must be monitored, with public access. Today you can only get free satellite images every 12 days; However, with this research we want to encourage national authorities to share information, develop new monitoring and control tools, also recommending that these be publicly accessible so that citizens have full knowledge of what is happening around them.
According to the study, the most recent spill event was in Los Vilos (August 15, 2022), due to the collapse of the Los Pelambres mine project platform, a situation that was reported in the national press. The results were surprising and show that using free satellite images taken eight days after the event, it was detected that a potential spill moved to the north, and an affected marine area of over 40 km2 could be estimated. Therefore, the authorities will now be able to assess the environmental impact more thoroughly, carry out monitoring in the potentially affected areas (and not only in Los Vilos Bay, in this case), and be able to sanction economically according to the damage caused.
With this, a new stage in ocean environmental monitoring and control begins in Chile, where the use of free satellite technologies gives us a powerful tool for the good of our marine ecosystems and people.
Hector Leopoldo Venegas Quiñones
University of Arizona
Pablo A. Garcia-Chevesich
Colorado School of Mines
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