A tanker carrying more than 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil sunk in the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea to the south and the Azov Sea to the North after a storm on Sunday.
Russian officials are already reporting the death of 30,000 birds and an "impossible to count" number of fish.
"The damage is so huge it can hardly be evaluated. It can be compared to an ecological catastrophe," the guardian quoted Alexander Tkachyov, governor of Russia's Black Sea region of Krasnodar, as saying.
News agencies are reporting that the region's ecosystem will take up to ten years to recover.
Greenpeace said the oil spill revealed the shortcomings of shipping safety in the region. The tanker at the source of the spill is said to have been built in the 1970s and not designed for heavy seas.
"In Russia we do not have 100 per cent of our ships maintained in a suitable condition as is the practice in the West," Alexei Kiselyov, coordinator of Greenpeace Russia's anti-pollution campaigns said.
"In the last few days we have seen a very clear demonstration of that."
This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2007