Picture of an oily sea taken on September 14, 2017, at a beach near Athens, five days after the sinking of a tanker. The 45-year-old vessel Agia Zoni II sank on Sunday near the island of Salamis while under anchor. The cause is still unknown. The Greek-flagged tanker was carrying around 2,500 tonnes of fuel. / AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis (AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

A spill in paradise

Salamina, Greece -- The oil spill didn’t make headlines around the world. It was too small by oil spill standards. But for me, it struck home and to the heart, soiling the crystal clear waters of a treasured memory in a stark example of just how fragile our environment is.

The island of Salamina is close enough to Athens for a day trip to escape the bustle of the capital. When I was 16 I spent the summer there, swimming in the clear waters every day. I still remember just how clear they were.

I didn’t go back until this September, when the Agia Zoni II oil tanker spilled 2,200 tonnes of oil into the waters. That’s pretty small by huge spill standards -- the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico off the US coast gushed 560,000-585,000 tons, the Amoco Cadiz off the northwestern coast of France poured some 220,000 tons into the sea. But it was enough.

An oil laden shovel is raised out of the water as workers carry out a clean-up of an oil covered beach near Athens on September 14, 2017, five days after the sinking of a tanker. The 45-year-old vessel Agia Zoni II sank on Sunday near the island of Salamis while under anchor. The cause is still unknown. The Greek-flagged tanker was carrying around 2,500 tonnes of fuel. / AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis (AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

I took a boat to the island two days after the spill, on September 12, and didn’t know what to expect. I first went to the Selinia beach. The sea was black and a strong smell of petrol struck me.

I felt disoriented. The sea spread out in front of me. But it wasn’t the azure sea that I have been photographing for years, the azure sea that is one of Greece’s distinguishing marks. It seemed sick to me. It was still beautiful, but not in a soothing, calming manner that I have been used to.

(AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

I went back over the course of several days, to photograph what the oil does to a shore. I went back at dawn, to catch the ugliness of the spill in the beautiful light.

This picture taken on September 12, 2017 shows oil that has washed ashore on a beach of Salamis island near Athens, after an old tanker sank close to Salamis island over the weekend. The coastguard said an entire bay on the southeast of the island had been affected after the Agia Zoni II, carrying 2,500 metric tonnes of fuel, sank. The spill extends over 1.5 kilometres and the full cleanup will likely require four months, greater Athens fisheries councillor Voula Toutountzi told the capital's municipal radio. / AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis (AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

To show how the landscape had been transformed, I used long exposure, 30 seconds or a minute. This showed both the oil that had been absorbed into the environment and the oil that still covered it.

This picture taken on September 12, 2017 shows an oily sea on a beach of Salamis island near Athens, after an old tanker sank close to Salamis island over the weekend. The coastguard said an entire bay on the southeast of the island had been affected after the Agia Zoni II, carrying 2,500 metric tonnes of fuel, sank. The spill extends over 1.5 kilometres and the full cleanup will likely require four months, greater Athens fisheries councillor Voula Toutountzi told the capital's municipal radio. / AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis (AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

The spill hit the island residents hard. The island is a popular destination for people around the Greek capital and environs. But now it reeked of oil, globs of which could be found in the water and on the shore. The fishermen could no longer fish. The authorities were quick to announce that the spill would be cleaned up quickly and dispatched teams to the island beaches. But I fear that the consequences of this “little” spill will last a long time. It will for me.

(AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis)

 

Angelos Tzortzinis