Exxon Valdex Oil Spill Paper

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The Effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska
By: Mary McCracken
Geography of US and Canada

The ocean is a gigantic sea of blue that is the home to millions of sea animals. It also is the source of our waters and rains. Most people do not realize our oceans are important in many other ways as well. The air we breathe and the food we eat both depend on our oceans. Also, our jobs and even the economy are other ways we are connected to the ocean. Ocean’s affect the life of people and animals everyday. But imagine about 17 Olympic-size swimming pools filled with oil spewing out into the Pacific Ocean. This tragic disaster occurred 25 years ago in the Northern Gulf of Alaska. Thousands of wildlife and the natural environment itself were destroyed. On March 24, 1989 an oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef. “It spilled approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil” into the ocean (Questions and Answers). This oil spill is one of the most devastating human-caused disasters in the world. It “killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, at least a dozen killer whales, and billons of salmon and herring eggs”(Koch). Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington can remember seeing birds unable to fly because they were covered in oil (Koch). Even though scientist thought killer whales were “smart” enough to avoid spilled oil, they were photographed swimming through it. I can only imagine other sea creatures struggling for their lives while trying to avoid the oil. The spill “stretched 460 miles from Bligh Reed to the tiny villages of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula” (How Toxic is Oil). So what exactly caused this oil spill? There have been several factors that may have been the cause. Although there have been some speculations that the Captain of the ship was drunk because he was seen at a local bar, he was found not guilty of operating the vessel while under the influence of alcohol. Also at the time of the spill, the oil industry promised, but never installed, high-tech iceberg monitoring equipment and the radar itself had been turned off because it was broken and disabled for more than a year before this disaster. These factors along with the number of staff being reduced and that the Exxon Valdex was actually sailing outside the normal sea lane trying to avoid small icebergs that were thought to be in the area, all caused this horrible disaster. Do people realize how toxic oil is? Oil is a mixture of many different chemicals so no two oils are the same. “Arabian crude oil, Louisiana crude oil, and Alaska North Slope crude oil represent very different mixtures that will behave differently in the environment and have different toxic effects to exposed organisms” (How Toxic is Oil). Since it was Alaskan crude oil that spilled into the ocean that day, it was actually very toxic because it contained chemicals that can kill plants and animals outright. Oil that is high in concentration can poison animals. If birds or mammals with fur or feathers are exposed to oil, it causes great harm to them because they can no longer insulate and survive. Small organisms living close to the shore can be suffocated by oil. Also, some fish eggs and embryos will not develop completely causing them to die off. How did people help cleanup this oil spill? Since the inlet of the Gulf of Alaska, The Prince William Sound, is only accessible by helicopter, plane or boat, it made it extremely difficult for the government to respond quickly. Hot water treatment was used because of the fact that the Prince William Sound contained many rocky coves. Soon scientists realized that this was causing more damage to the plants and organisms. Cold-water treatment was then used. This was a method in which dozens of people would hold hoses and