Ecological impacts petrochemical fire and firefighting on Bonaire: Flamingos returned but not without risk

In 2010 two storage tanks caught fire at an oil terminal, during a thunderstorm on Bonaire. Multiple foams were applied to fight the fire. On the island, and at the nearby salt lake (saliña) in particular, residues of the fire and the firefighting deposited. Wageningen Marine Research studied the ecological impacts in the surrounding saliñas, especially flamingos which avoided Saliña Goto for several years.

Directly after the fires, water and sediment samples were taken at several salt lakes (saliñas) across the island. Samples from the saliña (Goto) next to the fire showed the highest levels of contaminants. In particular the persistent substance PFOS from firefighting foam was found at levels at which ecological effects could not be excluded.

Flamingos avoided the salt lake next to the oil terminal after the fires. Most likely, the contaminants have affected the food supply (a.o. brine shrimps). Years later, the flamingos have returned to the lake. This sounds like good news. However, the bottom of the lake and the food supply are still polluted. Therefore, flamingos are now via their food exposed to levels that are potentially toxic. The consequences to the flamingo population requires further research.