Sunday, 30 January 2011

What are the Environmental Effects of an Oil Spill?

Oil Spills Cause Serious Ecological Damage - Mantasmagorical, Morguefile Photo Archive
Oil Spills Cause Serious Ecological Damage -Mantasmagorical, Morguefile Photo Archive
Tragedies like the BP oil spill have incredibly damaging effects on the environment, and these effects can be felt for decades.
Oil spills are man-made ecological disasters that occur either through oversight or careless behavior. Each oil spill can cost millions of dollars or more in solving the spill, cleaning up the environment and the ongoing environmental repairs, which can last for decades. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the BP spill off the coast of Louisiana in 2010 are two of the world’s largest oil spills, and both will have lasting effects on the environment for many years.
After the initial disaster of an oil spill when oil enters the water, more damage takes place as the spilled oil begins to work its way through the environment. There are many environmental effects of oil spills.

What are the Effects of Oil Spills on Water?

When oil enters the water, it does not simply float on the surface. It separates and portions of it begin sinking. The oil slick can spread for hundreds or thousands of miles, while oil begins to affect water from the surface to the sea floor. Once oil begins sinking into the sand at the sea floor, it poisons plants, coral reefs and organisms that live there.

Effects of Oil Spills on Animals

Oil spills cause the deaths of animals in a number of ways. Fish can be poisoned or drowned by swimming through oil, and many animals can be blinded by oil, which makes them more vulnerable to predators. Animals can get oil into their lungs or livers, which is poisonous.
Dolphins and whales exposed to an oil spill can have their blowholes plugged by the oil and suffocate on it. In areas where sea otters live, oil removes the protective properties of their fur and causes hypothermia. Birds that get covered in oil are poisoned by it when they try to clean their feathers.
The effects of an oil spill also destroy populations of plankton, mussels and other bottom-feeding animals, which can cause starvation along the entire food chain, eventually damaging seafood populations and reducing fisheries.

Do Oil Spills Affect Land?

Eventually, oil reaches the shore and travels inland. Oil spills can destroy beaches and poison coastlines for miles inland as the oil sinks into the ground and makes soil toxic and poisons plants. The toxic oil also poisons animals and plants that live inland as it ruins their food supplies and habitats.
Oil spills are not confined to the oceans, and their effects on land can be just as dramatic and devastating as those in the water.

Effects of Oil Spills on People

As was seen in the BP oil spill, the initial incident can cost human lives. The toxic chemicals in oil can also make people ill when working with volunteer cleanup efforts, leading to further human deaths. Poisoning from exposure to oil can make people very ill.
Additionally, oil spills can cost many people their jobs –not only with an oil company, but also within industries affected by the oil spill. Fisheries can be damaged or destroyed by the oil, as it poisons fish and their food supply. Inland livelihoods can also be ruined when beaches and other attractions have to be closed down due to oil.
Over time, the supply of fish is also damaged by oil. Fish that are not immediately killed by the oil have a buildup of toxins in their bodies that spread throughout the food chain as predators eat the poisoned fish. Eventually, these fish can end up in the human food supply, causing further illness and death.
Oil spills are terrible ecological tragedies. The amount of oil released in one spill can devastate an entire ecosystem for many years, and the loss of life that results is immense. The world’s dependency on oil makes it more likely that further spills like the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills will occur again. Everyone should consider the toll that human oil use takes on the environment.
Readers may also be interested in Household Tips for Going Green and How to Reduce Energy Consumption and Oil Dependency to learn more about ways to find alternative energy sources.
Copyright Bailey Shoemaker Richards. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.