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NATURE

Conference to assess Exxon Valdez oil spill

Oil spill workers hose a beach in Prince William Sound following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989   

March 4, 1999
Web posted at: 2:30 PM EST




Ten years ago on March 24, 1989, 11.2 million gallons of oil spilt into Alaska's Prince William Sound after Captain Joseph Hazelwood skippered the Exxon Valdez onto Bligh Reef.

Exxon was unable to contain the spill during three days of calm weather and smooth seas. When strong northeasterly winds picked up, the oil was dispersed beyond any hope of containment and wreaked havoc on the pristine ecosystem.

Nearly 10,000 square miles were effected by the spill, including a national forest, four national wildlife refuges, three national parks, five state parks, four state critical habitat areas and a state game sanctuary.

Wildlife ranging from seabirds and sea otters to whales and bald eagles were covered and killed by the oil. As well, fishing communities lost millions of dollars in potential revenue from destroyed salmon, black cod and herring spawning grounds.

An international team of researchers and scientists has been studying the impacts of the oil spill on the region's people and environment. On the tenth anniversary of the spill, they will present their findings at a conference in Anchorage, Alaska, March 23-26.

The conference will try to answer such questions as:

  • What is the status of resources injured by the spill?
  • Has recovery been achieved? Are there lingering effects?
  • What has been gained through efforts to restore the natural resources and human services injured by the oil spill?
  • What are the lessons learned and steps taken to prevent future oil spills and improve responses to the spills that inevitably will occur?
"The wildlife as well as the overall environment of the sound has essentially recovered. Nature's resiliency, combined with the cleanup efforts, has restored this vast and valued resource," Exxon states in its 1999 Update: Prince William Sound, Alaska.

According to the Rainforest Action Network, however, the injured ecosystem and human communities have not recovered and the spill continues to be the most damaging oil spill in history.

One of the ongoing problems that will be discussed at the conference by Kevin Stokesbury of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is how a viral infection triggered by exposure to the oil has decimated Prince William Sound's stocks of Pacific herring.

Legacy of an Oil Spill: Ten Years After the Exxon Valdez is sponsored by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council and the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved


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RELATED SITES:
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Web Site
Legacy on an Oil Spill 10 Years After Exxon Valdez
Oil Spill Public Information Center
Exxon Corporation
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