600 Gallon Oil Spill In The Galapagos Is ‘Under Control’

Over 600 gallons of oil is currently being contained off the coast of the Galapagos Islands after a cargo vessel was overturned this past Sunday morning, December 22nd. The ship was docked and being loaded with containers when it overturned and spilled the massive amounts of oil. The Galapagos are an extremely unique and important ecosystem on our planet. Charles Darwin first brought attention to the islands with his theory of evolution that exploited the island for its hundreds of species that are, as far as we know, exclusive to the Galapagos. 

Ever since its initial discovery scientists, conservationists, environmentalists, and research teams have worked together to protect the islands at all cost from human interference in order to further research the many rare qualities that the island possesses to be able to support such a diverse amount of species. 

As unique as the ecosystem on the Galapagos is, it’s also extremely fragile. As one of the only places on Earth that’s not permanently inhabited by humans, its survival is extremely important for environmentalists to study and learn from. A major long term goal for many researchers is to use the Galapagos as a model to improve other places on the planet currently suffering from the detrimental effects of climate change.

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On Sunday Morning a large shipping container holding cylinders of oil was being loaded onto a cargo vessel via crane. The crane ended up falling over and succumbing to the weight of the container, causing both to fall directly onto the vessel’s dock. Once the crane and container fell over the vessel capsized, causing the workers on the ship to jump; luckily, no one was harmed during the whole ordeal. 

The Galapagos are technically a part of Ecuador, despite being located hundreds of miles from the coast. Luckily, the Ecuadorian Coast Guard has certain emergency protocols when situations like this occur.

“Galapagos National Park authorities and the Ecuadorian Navy implemented emergency measures to contain the spill, setting up protective barriers and oil absorbent clothes around the oil patch. The situation is under control, and a series of actions have been deployed to mitigate the possible effects,” the Ecuadorian presidential communications office said in a statement.

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The incident happened at a dock located on San Cristobal Island, which is the easternmost of all the islands that make up the Galapagos. The island is also known for inhabiting some of the most recognizable species to the islands such as ring-tailed lemurs, giant tortoises, and of course, finches. 

The emergency plan to contain the oil spill has been successful so far, however, some of the damage had already been done. Photos from the scene have begun circulating around the internet, causing people to compare it to the devastating 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While this spill wasn’t nearly as damaging, and was able to be contained in a quick and organized matter, conservationists are raising their voices against yet another man-made operation that’s destroying the planet. 

SOS Galapagos is an online advocacy group who has been speaking up against the damaging operations occurring on the islands that are only further harming our planet. They were one of the first groups to post pictures of the oil spill, claiming that it was a result of “illegal and dangerous” operations. The group is also, in general, based on the claim that over-tourism is destroying many ecosystems within the island. While individuals can’t stay on the island, there are many tourist attractions that allow people to sail to the island and get a glance at all the unique wildlife within it. After Sunday, SOS Galapagos and conservationist groups everywhere are calling on the public to leave the island alone to prevent even further spills/damage. 


New Research Hints at Origin of Life on Earth

While the theory of evolution is broadly accepted as fact among scientists, more controversy exists over explanations for the ultimate origin of life on Earth. However, new research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution sheds light on a potential theory for the origin of living things by attempting to recreate the conditions of the early earth and exploring how they could lead to the development of “protocells,” which are thought to be fundamental “building blocks” of all life. In an experiment, researchers successfully created conditions that led to the development of protocells by replicating the environment of underwater hydrothermal vents, whose combination of heat, alkalinity, and minerals are instrumental in the creation of protocells.

Though multiple competing theories explaining the origin of life exist, including Darwin’s assertion that life probably first evolved in shallow pools of warm water, the theory that life originally began within underwater thermal vents is supported by evidence, including the discovery of some of the world’s oldest fossils nearby these vents. Now, this explanation for the creation of life seems even more likely, as demonstrating the creation of protocells under these conditions is a key argument supporting the theory. Although the results of this research do not definitively prove that life on earth began in underwater hydrothermal vents, the researchers assert that the possibility of this explanation cannot be ruled out.

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Hydrothermal vents are located deep under the Earth’s seas, where minerals from the planet’s crust react with seawater, creating a warm, alkaline, and hydrogen-rich environment. This process leads to the creation of so-called chimneys, which are rich with alkaline and acidic fluids, enabling the formation of complex organic compounds, including, as this new research shows, protocells. These vents emerge spontaneously along fault lines as a result of geological processes, and have existed on Earth for millions, if not billions of years. Hydrothermal vents are known for being areas of the deep sea where life is relatively abundant, as they tend to be populated by shrimp, worms, and clams, who feed off of the energy and materials present around the vents.

This research has strong implications not only for the beginning of life on Earth, but for the potential for life to form elsewhere in space.

Protocells are, in essence, the most basic form of a cell, consisting of a bilayer membrane around an aqueous solution. Previous experiments succeeded in creating these cells in cool, fresh water, but only under tightly controlled conditions. Also, previous experiments attempting to replicate hydrothermal vents have failed to generate protocells which don’t fall apart. In this most recent experiment, however, the scientists identified a flaw with previous research on creating protocells in hydrothermal vents; namely, these experiments used a limited number of types of molecules, whereas in natural environments, you would expect to see a wide range of different types of molecules.

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Whereas it was previously thought that heat, alkalinity, and salt posed obstacles in the creation of protocells, this new research shows that these factors were actually beneficial in the process. This is because head allowed long carbon chains to form into a protocell structure, an alkaline solution helped protocells keep their electric charge, and saltwater helps fat molecules band together, forming more stable structures. What’s notable about this experiment is that while protocells have been created artificially in laboratory environments before, they had never been before created under conditions that match the chemistry of the early Earth.

This research has strong implications not only for the beginning of life on Earth, but for the potential for life to form elsewhere in space. This is because space missions have revealed the presence of similar hydrothermal vents on extraterrestrial bodies, including the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Life on other planets or moons has not yet been discovered, of course, but research into the origins of life on Earth could give scientists a better idea of where in space to look for extraterrestrial life.