Twenty five years ago today, the super tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. The result? Oil covering over 1,100 miles of Alaska`s coastline. To put this into context, that is the equivalent of covering everything from Atlanta to Boston. Nothing has been the same since.
A few quick facts:
- Approximately 11 million gallons or 257,000 barrels or 35,000 metric tonnes of oil spilled (roughly equivalent to 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools)
- Widely considered to be one of the biggest spills worldwide in terms of damage to the environment
- It took more than four summers of cleanup efforts before the cleanup stopped. Not all beaches were cleaned and some beaches remain oiled today (Winter storm wave action is believed to have done more to clean the beaches than all of the human effort involved)
- The ship went back to work under various new names
The evidence of lingering effects is clear. Rough estimates pin the deaths of 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters and 300 harbor seals directly on the oil spill. Two groups of killer whales swam through the affected parts of the Prince William Sound, and a study found that these pods experienced population losses around 41 percent in the year after the spill. The sea otters populations have only just-25 years later- recovered. Three species of cormorant, the common loon, the harbor seal, the harlequin duck, the pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot never fully recovered.
The BP oil spill in 2010 demonstrates that these oil disasters will happen again. Many of you will have probably visited a beach in your recent memory. My family, for example, visits the beaches in Maine (the photo above) nearly every year and would be devastated if they ever experienced an oil spill. The countless environmental, political and social implications that oil spills cause calls for a plan of action.
Generally oil spill cleanup will rest on a large, organized incident management group, but the first responders will most likely be the closest locals who have the most knowledge of the natural resources, and have the most at stake in relation to the spill. The Arctic, where the Valdez spill occurred, is an area that has a large amount of risk of oil spills occurring as Arctic waters are full of shipping activities. Giving the people who stand to lose the most to an oil spill event should be provided with training and equipment that could help them play a role in responding to any future environmental disaster.
The cheapest option available is to hope for the best, but with the amount of devastation an oil spill can cause, the value of prevention and preparedness is priceless.
Photo Cred: Tricia Skorupinski
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