to the health of marine ecosystems. Every year, a number or oil spills occur due to faulty equipment, shipwrecks, and accidents. They kill indiscriminately, affecting everything from the smallest plankton up to the largest blue whales. Read on to discover ten heartbreaking things about oil spills:
Oil causes some mammals and birds to die a slow, painful death from hypothermia. It ruins the water repellency of bird’s feathers and destroys the insulating effect of fur in mammals, exposing them to the full force of the oceans coldness¹. Oil can also affect a bird’s ability to float, actually causing it to drown².
The effects of an oil spill can still be seen in the effected ecosystem for up to twenty years. It can affect the ecosystem balance by removing top predators (marine mammals and birds), which can lead to imbalances and issues amongst certain species. It is thought that recovery is quicker in warmer climates and on stable shorelines such as rocks, than in colder water or on unstable shorelines, like marshes or mangroves².
In 1976, one of the most tragic environmental disasters of all time occurred. A small oil spill of around 10 tonnes (to put this in context, most spills are in the thousands or tens of thousands of tonnes) resulted in the death of more than 60,000 long-tailed ducks in the Baltic Sea. The oil made the surface of the water seem calm, which attracted the wintering ducks to an oily grave².
Many birds are killed trying to clean themselves after coming into contact with an oil spill. When they try to remove the oil from their feathers, they can ingest or inhale it, which can result in serious health effects including pneumonia, intestinal or lung haemorrhage, and liver and kidney damage. This can lead to a slow, painful death for the affected bird².
Sea otters are especially vulnerable to oil exposure due to the fact that they rely on a thick fur coat for both warmth and flotation. When they come into contact with oil, they lose both of these properties, meaning that they are likely to die. They are also affected indirectly by habitat loss due to contamination and by diminished food sources².
Oil spills near sea turtle nesting areas can wipe out an entire population of juvenile turtles. If the eggs come into contact with oil, then the embryo can be either killed or severely deformed. Newly hatched turtles can come into direct contact with oil as they make their way over the beach to get to the water. This can cause increased mortality rates, or in bad cases, completely wipe out a family of young turtles².
For those of you who like a good seafood meal, listen up, because oil spills could affect your next feast. When shellfish and crustaceans come into contact with oil (and other pollutants), they can develop a bad taste. This can cripple small fishing industries, and can destroy food sources for animals such as seals and sea otters².
After an oil spill, volunteers and environmental experts must put their health and safety at risk in order to perform an efficient clean up. Danger comes from the heavy machinery used, the toxic nature of oil fumes – which could potentially cause long term health effects – and the danger posed by sick or injured animals³.
One method of oil clean-up involves confining the oil to an area and setting it on fire. This obviously has terrible environmental ramifications, and could possibly affect animal life in the area more than the oil itself would⁴.
Often oil spills affect already endangered animals, such as large turtles, cetaceans, and marine birds, more than any other animals. This pushes them closer and closer to extinction, and reduces their chance of surviving this age of rampant human destruction and environmental rape⁴.