Seabirds and other marine life could be “devastated” by the major diesel spill which took place along the the Larne coastline, wildlife groups have warned.
About 40,000 litres of red diesel made its way into the sea just north of Larne harbour after a leak at Larne’s Caterpillar factory at the weekend.
A huge slick, stretching from The Gobbins - a key breeding site for seabirds such as puffins - to Drains Bay could be seen clearly on Saturday morning.
The incident has sparked fears for the colonies of seabirds which rely on the local marine environment around Larne Lough, which is an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
The Isle of Muck – which is home to with the third largest colony of cliff-nesting seabirds in Northern Ireland – is managed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust.
A spokesperson for the Trust said that while it has not received any reports of dead birds as a result of the pollution, it is monitoring the situation closely.
Andy Crory, Nature Reserves Manager with Ulster Wildlife added: “The diesel spill could have potentially devastating impacts on breeding birds. This is one of the most important times of the year for our seabird colony at the Isle of Muck.
“Unfortunately we are unable to access the island until the weekend to carry out a bird count to determine the full impact of the spill. We have carried out an immediate spot check along this part of the coast and have found no injured birds so far, but will be keeping a close eye on the situation by liaising with local fishermen and birdwatchers.”
Meanwhile, the RSBP also said that there has been no evidence of birds being killed by the spill at its two protected sites in Larne Lough.
A spokesperson said: “An environmental consultant surveyed the area around Swan Island and Blue Circle Island yesterday, and there is no evidence that the diesel has reached these locations.
“However, there is still a danger that the pollution could be spread to these areas by tidal flows.
“Diesel is considered to be one of the most acutely toxic oil types. Fish, invertebrates, and seaweed that come in direct contact with a diesel spill may be killed.
“Diesel spills can affect marine birds by direct contact, though the number of birds affected is usually small because of the short time the oil is on the water surface. Mortality is more often caused by ingestion during preening as well as by hypothermia from matted feathers.”
A spokesperson for Caterpillar said the firm“deeply regrets” the incident and is carrying out an investigation to “fully understand how this happened and to make any changes necessary to prevent further incidents.”
The company has employed the services of an environmental contractor to assist with the clean-up.
Caterpillar said it was also working closely with the NI Environment Agency, which has launched its own investigation into the incident.
Anyone with any questions or concerns can contact Caterpillar on 028 2826 1000.