Exxon Valdez

On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker ExxonValdez struck
a reef in Alaska's breath-taking Prince William Sound. Instantaneously, the
quiet waters of the sound became a sea of black. "We've fetched up - ah -
hard aground north of Goose Island off Bligh Reef, and - ah - evidently leaking
some oil," Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the ship, radioed the Coast Guard

Marine Safety Office back in Valdez. That "some oil" turned out to be
a total of 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil leaking from the ruptured hull of the
ship. By the time a containment effort was put forth, a weather storm had helped
to spread the oil as much as three feet thick across 1,400 miles of beaches. A
little over ten years have passed since the largest oil spill and the greatest
environmental disaster in American history, but the waters and its surroundings
are still recovering. At first, many people repeated what was then thought as
common knowledge, "oil dissipates, nature heals quickly, all will be well
in a year or two." This has not been the case with the Exxon Valdez. This
massive 987-foot tanker has left a lingering, long-term effect on the natural
habitat that surrounds these pristine waters, along with an enormous
socio-economic effect that has left many people wondering when and where the
next oil spill will be. Many associated with the recovery process, and its more
than one hundred projects per year, say it will take longer than a human
lifetime to determine if a full recovery is possible (Fine 1999). RESULTS AND

DISCUSSION The Exxon Valdez oil spill was initially thought of as a two to three
year clean-up project. As time went ahead, scientists and clean-up crews
realized that it would take a longer period of time and require a lot more
effort than originally planned. Up to this point, the oil has contaminated a
national forest, four wildlife refuges, three national parks, five state parks,
four "critical habitat areas" and a state game sanctuary, which
spreads along 1,400 miles of the Alaskan shoreline. Recent scientific studies
show that the oil continues to wreak havoc among many spawning salmon, herring,
and other species of fish. This is even more devastating when considering that
much of the wildlife around the sound is dependant on the high calorie, high fat
content of the herring as their prime food source. Among the many casualties
were 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, as many as 22 killer
whales, and an estimated quarter-million seabirds. It is unclear how many
billions of salmon and herring eggs and intertidal plants succumbed to the oil
smothering. Within an ecosystem, each living thing depends on other living
things. That means that when the fish died in Prince William Sound, there was
less food for the seals that normally eat them. As those seals died, there was
less food for the killer whales that eat seals (Knickerbocker 1999). This has
led to a domino effect within the food chain, victimizing many of the animals
surrounding the area. Intertidal mussel beds are still contaminated to this day.

Twenty-three species of wildlife were effected by this oil spill, and only two
species, the bald eagle and the river otter, have fully recovered. The species
that are well on their way to a comeback include pink salmon, Pacific herring,
sea otters, mussels, black oyster catcher, common murre, marbled murrelet, and
sockeye salmon. As with any environmental disasters, there are some animals that
are showing little or no clear improvement since the spill occurred. This group
includes harbour seals, killer whales, harlequin ducks, common loons,
cormorants, and the pigeon gullomot. In some areas, that have been hardest hit
by the oil spill, many of the species have an elevated level of mortality. Even
though the Exxon Valdez is the most-studied oil spill in world history, it is
also a particularly difficult one to research because of the lack of baseline
data on the ecology of Prince William Sound (Birkland 1998). Among all the
animal casualties, there is another victim, people. Thousands have been forced
to bare the consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Throughout the years,
the waters of Alaska have provided families with a living, but the oil spill
changed that. Fisherman in Cordova and other nearby cities surrounding the Gulf
of Alaska have struggled with scarce catches. Some Alaskan natives still depend
on seal meat for food. And fishing is a source of income for many Alaskan
families. As some fish and seal species continue to struggle 10 years after