Exxon Valdez and the Recovery of Prince William Sound
Approximately eleven years ago, an area of Alaska's southern coast known as Prince William Sound was a disaster area. A nauseating scent of rotting carcasses and oil filtered through the air. Sea birds screamed in anguish as they fought to survive with oil drenched feathers. Under the surface billions of organisms ceased to live due to the toxicity of the inescapable wrath of the blackened water. Prince William Sound had once been a place of beauty and grace, now it was home to an environmental deathbed. The media broadcast pictures of this nearly unbearable scene throughout the world. Most people, including myself, wondered if the ecological war zone would ever recover from such a disaster.
The death tolls from the oil spill are catastrophic. An estimated 2800 sea otters perished in the oil soaked death zone (Garrot, Eberhardt, Burn). Pink salmon, who normally made their runs up streams of crystal clear water, had a barrier of darkened water between the ocean and their spawning areas. Billions of salmon and herring eggs were destroyed in the oily water (6) Approximatley 250,000 sea birds lost their lives in Prince William Sound (Newsweek, p.50). According to Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and 22 killer whales fell victim to the oil spill (6). It seemed as if every environmental aspect of the area, from the largest mammals to the smallest organisms, suffered then, and would continue to suffer some type of harm for many years to come.
The cause of this incredible amount of environmental harm was an oil tanker known as the Exxon Valdez. On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound; an accident that caused the greatest oil spill ever in America. 11 million gallons of oil flowed out of the tanker coating 1300 miles of shoreline along the coast of southern Alaska (Newsweek, p.50). Massive cleanup efforts were initiated within a few weeks of the spill and they continued at reduced levels for the next three years. Approximately 14% of the spilled oil was recovered by cleanup crews (Newsweek, p.50). As a result of these efforts and natural weathering, little oil from the spill remained in the affected area by 1992. However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration some oil residues are still found under the ocean surface in areas sheltered from wind and waves. Yet, these residues are highly weathered and the toxicity is reduced to levels tolerable by organisms in the water (7). Nonetheless, the magnitude and timing of the Exxon Valdez oil spill raised immediate concerns about possible effects on marine fish and wildlife and prospects that these effects might be long lasting.
Professors John Wiens and David Page spent many years studying theses effects of the oil spill and they presented their findings at the International Oil Spill Conference in Seattle, March...