Red-throated Diver – 1996 oil spill

Gavia stellata – TROCHYDD GYDDFGOCH – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Recorded in every month except June

The tanker “Sea Empress” grounded outside the Heads approaching the Milford Haven waterway on the 15th February 1996. Approximately 72,000 tonnes of crude oil and 360 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled into the sea between the 15th and 21st of February. Further fuel oil was spilled when the ship was moved to Belfast.

The waterway within Milford Haven was heavily coated and much of the oil was carried south and east to affect the south Pembrokeshire coast and Carmarthen Bay. The offshore islands were not heavily contaminated nor was St Bride’s Bay, with no oil reported north of St David’s Head.

123 Red–throated Divers were known to be in Pembrokeshire waters in January and February prior to the oil spill, the largest concentrations being 10 at Fishguard Harbour, 17 at Frainslake, 20 off Amroth and 75 in Goultrop Roads. Of these, only the Amroth birds were in the badly oiled area, as were five at Freshwater East.

Ten oiled birds were collected from the south coast of Pembrokeshire but a further 49 from the nearby affected coasts of Carmarthenshire and West Glamorgan (SEEC, 1996). Those at Goultrop Roads disappeared and may well have been involved in the movement of 96 passing Strumble Head, going into Cardigan Bay, on the 25th February.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

SEA EMPRESS ENVIRONMENTAL EVALUATION COMMITTEE, Initial Report, 1996.

More about the Red-throated Diver in Pembrokeshire