Oil has become a key part of modern life.
But what are some of the consequences of mining & transporting it?
The most recent oil spill that we have seen in the news occurred just off the Galapagos Islands. As the barge was unloading cargo a crane fell and an electric generator crashed onto the vessel causing it to sink and 600 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean. See the video below:
What are oil spills?
An oil spill is when liquid petroleum hydrocarbon is released into the environment by mistake. This often occurs when oil is being transported and mistakes are made leading to oil leaking into the ocean. Sometimes, when countries are at war, one may decide to dump oil into another countries ocean as an attack. Other occurrences include illegal dumping, when a company or group doesn't want to pay to properly dispose of their oil waste. Even natural disasters can contribute to oil spills, hurricanes and strong storms have been known to topple oil tankers.
According to the United States Department of Energy, it is estimated that on average 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled into US waters from pipelines and vessels in a typical year. Since 1960 there have been 267 spills in the Gulf of Mexico.
What are the effects of oil spills in the ocean?
Oil spills that occur in the ocean have absolutely devastating effects on the environment and eco system.
If a sea bird finds its feathers coated in oil from a spill then it can be fatal. The oil will ruin the waterproofing on their feathers and destroy its insulation. This can often lead to the bird, tragically, drowning.
According to NOAA, many fish are not affected by oil spills, as the oil typically floats, so fish living on the ocean floor have a limited exposure. However fish that live in shallower waters have been know to die during oil spills, as the oil can affect their responses to predators. But the most concerning impact is on the fish eggs. Research has been done that shows that oil can cause defects in minnows, as well as problems with the heart rhythms of young blue fin tuna and even affect the swimming speeds of amberjack and mahi mahi fish. Read more over on National Geographic's website.
Back in 1989 when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in the northern part of Prince William Sound, researchers discovered that the oil not only poisoned sea otters but it was also causing them to freeze. Many deceased sea otters were found with severe liver, kidney and lung damage. The oil also destroyed the insulation abilities of otters fur which is what they rely on to keep warm. Read more in an article from 1989 in The New York Times.
Dolphins & Whales
After the 2010 BP oil spill, it was reported by Oceana, that it would take dolphin populations 40 years to recover. Some of the effects of oil exposure in dolphins are lung disease, low levels of adrenal hormone and an increase in stillborn births (National Geographic).
In regards to whales, it has been found that oil spills can affect their ability to breath, as they have to come to the surface to breath which can result in them sucking in toxic substances into their lungs. The fumes can even be strong enough to knock out a fully grown whale! Not only this but oil can drastically effect the prey of toothed-whales (fish & squid) which in turn effects the whales diets and ability to hunt and raise their young. You can read all about the effects on Sperm Whales after the 2010 oil spill here on National Geographic.
Want to fight Oil Spills & protect marine life?
Today we have found a petitions that we think is incredibly important. If you could take a moment to sign and share it, then please do. Every single signature counts.
Protect Our Oceans from Offshore Drilling
This petition has been set up by Heal the Bay, California Coastkeeper Alliance & Surfrider Foundation after the White House released a draft proposal in early January to dramatically expand offshore drilling in 2019.
"We don't have to choose between a bustling national economy and clean, safe and healthy local environments. We can have both. The success of Marine Protected Areas along California's coast proves that making smart investments that protect our environment can benefit fisheries and tourism, while preserving ecological habitats."