Exxon Oil Spill – The Valdez Incident

On the 24th of March, 1989, the Exxon Oil Tanker, Valdez, hit the Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and ruptured.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Facts

Between 260 000 and 750 000 barrels of oil spilled into the ocean at Prince William Sound in Alaska. The tanker was set for Long Beach, California, and was the biggest oil spill until the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

This accident affected a total of 1 300 miles of shoreline and 11 000 square miles of ocean.

The environmental impact was catastrophic, animals paying the highest price. It is estimated that between 100 000 and 250 000 seabirds died as a result of the spill.

Furthermore, an estimated 2 800 sea otters died, 300 Harbor Seals, 247 Bald Eagles, 22 Orcas and 12 River Otters. Unfortunately, these were not the only immediate fatalities. Billions of Herring and Salmon eggs were also destroyed by the spill.

Over the years that followed the spill, reductions in marine populations were noted. The Pink Salmon population showed stunned growth. The reduction in prey populations in turn affected the Kenai Fjords’ Killer Whale population.

It was found that 11 of one of the resident pods disappeared and in 2009 and it was also found that many did not reproduce. This could lead to a mass die-out of many animals.

The oil spill also resulted in the rise of death rates of Sea Otters and Ducks. This higher death rate can be partially connected to the ingestion of contaminated prey. These animals are believed to have ingested prey from contaminated soil, caused by the spill.

Also, grooming rituals resulted in the ingestion of oil residues that clung to fur and hairs.

The University of North California also found that the effects of the Exxon Oil Spill were lasting much longer than at first predicted. The team sent by the University estimated that it would take up to 30 years for full recovery.

The spill itself was found to have been caused due to a lack of staff. The staff was reduced to half the size of that of the 1977 Valdez crew. This resulted in crew members working between 12 and 14 hour shifts as well as overtime.

Valdez decided to set course into another direction to avoid ice-bergs, which they could have maneuvered through, and landed on a dangerous path. In short, they were sailing outside of the normal sea lanes.

A Coast Guard Inspection of the tanker was also not done.

Despite the large load of oil being shipped, precautions were not followed, resulting in the death of animals and environmental processes. -ANNABEL SCHOEMAN

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