Wednesday, 18 October 2017
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CulatraPollutionThe lumps of congealed palm oil washed up along the beaches of the Ria Formosa barrier islands has been cleared up in an efficient, labour intensive operation that much relied on volunteers.

Thanks only to the willingness of the public to help the authorities, the polluting tide of palm oil is no longer visible, while the search is on for the tanker skipper who thought it a good idea to flush his tanks off the Algarve's coastline.

The alert was given on January 3 that an unknown substance was washing ashore on the beach at Culatra island.

The port captain and the local maritime police started to investigate while further sticky clumps of gunge stared to wash up on other of the Ria Formosa's pristine beaches.

A sample was sent to the Portuguese Environment Agency whose boffins identified the substance as as palm oil, congealed due to the low sea temperature.

The pollution washed ashore along 20 kilometres of beaches on the three islands.

'Plan Mar Limpo - Grade 2' was activated and coordinated by the southern maritime department with the involvement of the Navy and on Friday, 40 personnel from the department began removing the palm oil Culatra.

The authorities, despite this being a Grade 2 incident, called for the public to help and on Saturday, around 100 staff, islanders and landlubbers donned protective clothing and were issued with black bin bags in which to collect the mess.

Deserta Island was free of pollution by the end of Saturday and the team switched to Armona which was cleaned up by the end of Sunday as about 150 people were involved, including 100 volunteers.

Culatra should have been cleared by the end of Monday.

The black sacks will be collected by the authorities. The council-owned cleaning services company Ambiolhão already has collected the bags from Armona.

The search continues to discover which tanker skipper was responsible.

With the authorities relying on the public to help clean up pollution, many are asking what would happen if the beaches were covered in a toxic substance. The number of personnel despatched to help in the palm oil incident were insufficient to effect a swift clean up operation so if the public were prohibited from participating over health concerns, would the State's various agencies cope?

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Later posts on Facebook suggested that as only the bigger pieces of congealed palm oil had been picked up, smaller ones have been left, now mixed in with the sand, as the pollution was not sieved through a sand screen. 

From ASMAA, see also: Government Big Fail with a Palm Oil spill in Algarve – how will they cope with an Oil spill?