Walkover and photographic surveys were conducted on four occasions up to February 2004 on shorelines of Galicia, Asturias and Vizcaya that were severely affected by Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) from the November 2002 Prestige incident. The geomorphology and ecology impacts resulting from both the oil and cleanup actions were observed by experienced scientists. Some cleanup methods worked well, and environmental disturbance was minimized. However, inefficient or over-zealous treatments also occurred, particularly early in the incident response. The study showed that rocky headlands are now often clean, and that wave-cut rock platforms have been cleaned effectively by high-pressure flushing. Maritime vegetation has, however, been trampled and oiled secondarily in the supra-tidal zone. Backshore botanical impacts resulted from cleanup equipment lay-down, vehicle refueling, and vehicular and pedestrian traffic. In some cases, vegetation and often soil removal during construction of access routes across the backshore will mean permanent adverse impact. Boulder and cobble storm berms were often oil-saturated above the mean high water level. Some of these are in fact relict geomorphic features inherited from previous higher sea levels during the interglacial periods, and so natural recovery would be very slow indeed. These coarse deposits were commonly treated by inefficient storm berm relocation, although good results were also achieved elsewhere. Numerous cases were seen of underlying and non-oiled finer sediments being exposed to erosion. Vegetation and substrate impacts were most severe where oil quantities were large and cleanup protracted or imperfectly supervised. Generally, estuaries were well protected by booming, and were only slightly oiled. Sand dunes have also escaped the worst impacts of oil and intrusive cleanup. There was, however, criticism of the government's handling of offers of advice from Spanish scientists expert in shoreline dynamics. This was in contrast to the international cooperation that typified the tracking, modeling and cleanup of oil offshore. It is recommended that existing best practices (e.g. Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique; SCAT) be more widely adopted in spills with potentially prolonged and injurious shoreline cleanups.

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