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Costa Concordia Environmental Impact: What Will The Disaster Mean For The Mediterranean?

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As Italian rescue crews dealt with a major cruise ship wreck Tuesday, the tragedy of missing persons and rising casualties from the Costa Concordia were not their only concerns.

The ship, which is foundering within Italy's largest protected marine area, also contains several thousand gallons of heavy fuel oil and diesel.

Officials in the area say that a potential fuel spill from the ship "would be a disaster," reports BBC News.

The waters and Tuscan Archipelago near the wrecked ship contain rare and important plants and animals, including the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal.

So far, no fuel has spilled from the wreck and officials are racing to keep it that way. According to The Guardian, booms have been staged around the wreck and a Dutch salvage firm has been hired to extract the ship's fuel.

The salvage team may begin inspecting the ship on Wednesday and, according to The Washington Post, complete the fuel extraction within two to four weeks.

The Washington Post reports the salvage company's manager of operations, Kees van Essen, said "The vessel is stable and we feel confident that removal can be done in a fairly rapid way." He added that a salvage operation won't "increase the chance of leaks."

Despite the integrity of the ship's fuel tanks thus far, environmental groups are still concerned. CNN reports Greenpeace expert Alessandro Gianni said, "If all this fuel is lost it is going to be a serious disaster."

In the past, Greenpeace has warned against Mediterranean ship congestion and, according to CNN, "a lack of management of the sanctuary" where the ship lies.

Others share a broader concern over cruise ships. Alessandra Motola Molfino, president of Italy's national conservation group, told Reuters, "These monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with their very presence and the rivers, seas and cities where they stop with the refuse that they produce."

She added, "The disaster of the Costa Concordia unfortunately proves the insubstantiality of the type of tourism that exploits and tramples on Italy's beauty and cultural heritage and does not produce any growth or wellbeing."

WATCH an Al Jazeera video about Costa Concordia environmental fears (scroll down for photos):

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