Adrift on the stormy Bering Sea, the Malaysian freighter Selendang Ayu ran aground just north of Skan Bay on Unalaska Island on December 8, 2004. The ship broke in half, spilling its cargo of soybeans and some of the oil it carried for fuel. The Selendang Ayu had been carrying 424,000 gallons of Intermediate Fuel Oil and 18,000 gallons of diesel. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, at least 40,000 gallons of fuel spilled into the ocean, though more may be leaking from the ship. As of December 17, oil had been spotted hugging the northern shores of Unalaska Island from the northern shores of Makushin Bay past Pumicestone Bay, the long narrow inlet directly south of the wrecked vessel. Congealed tarballs, globs of sticky oil, cover a much broader region.
This true color image of Unalaska Island provides perspective on the extent of the spill. The image was acquired by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite on September 18, 2000, in a rare overflight with little cloud cover. The rugged and remote Aleutian Island is almost entirely a wildlife refuge, though some land is private. The island is home to both the shipping destination, Dutch Harbor, and the neighboring town, Unalaska.
The spill has the potential to severely impact environmentally sensitive regions on and near the island’s northwest coast where sea birds, sea lions, otters, seals, and salmon live. On December 19, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported that fifteen live oiled birds had been captured, and ten dead oil birds and a sea otter had been recovered.
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using Landsat data acquired from the Global Land Cover Facility at the University of Maryland.
Named Isla de Aves in Spanish, (meaning “Island of the Birds”) Aves Island lies west of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It provides a nesting site to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and, of course, birds. Because the abundant bird droppings, known as guano, could be used in fertilizer and gunpowder, guano miners worked on the island until they depleted the supply. Since its discovery by Europeans, likely in the late 16th century, Aves Island was subsequently claimed by several European nations. The island is currently claimed by Venezuela, although disputes about ownership of the island, and the surrounding exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean, continue today.
Akpatok Island lies in Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Accessible only by air, Akpatok Island rises out of the water as sheer cliffs that soar 500 to 800 feet (150 to 243 m) above the sea surface. The island is an important sanctuary
for cliff-nesting seabirds.
Semisopochnoi is the “Island of the Seven Mountains, ” or more precisely in Russian: “having seven hills.” This uninhabited volcanic island is also an important nesting area for maritime birds of the North Pacific.