Marking the 25th anniversary of the fateful Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Prince William Sound off Alaska, evidence shows the catastrophe is still impacting the area. On April 9, 1989, the US experienced one of the worst environmental disasters on record as the oil tanker poured massive amounts of oil into the ocean. While extensive cleanup efforts were done directly following the disaster, oil is still found clinging to the boulder-strewn beaches and researchers say it will likely be around for decades longer.
So does this just mean the cleanup efforts were not done efficiently? No, the beaches were cleaned to their best efforts following the spill. There are two main reasons why this oil is still found on the shorelines of the Kenai Fjords, Katmai National Parks and Preserves in the Gulf of Alaska. Firstly, as the oil was initially spilled, it emulsified with the saltwater forming a foam. When this foam hit the shoreline, the existing oil compounds clung down and around the cobbles and boulders where it has stayed ever since. The second reason oil is still found on these beaches is that the stability and protection of the boulders has effectively left the oil undisturbed and free from any other natural systems that would break it down.
One of the bigger issues is that researchers are unaware of exactly how much oil is hiding under the boulders. And as long as oil persists, it will continue to slowly leak out onto the beaches and negatively impact the ecosystem and animals in the area. Mussels living nearby the beaches were gathered and tested, proving low levels of Exxon Valdez oil are still found within their tissues. While the levels found are low enough to not cause major concern for the animals, it proves that oil can linger and persist in certain environments long after it is “cleaned up.”
Exxon Valdez continues to prove to be a devastating disaster for the US. However, the point of this study was not to merely highlight the lasting impacts of this specific spill, but to prove the importance of environmental monitoring, not only for a matter of weeks or months following a disaster, but years and even decades.
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