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Ocean Oil Spills and their Impact

June 17th, 2020
topic:Ocean Pollution
by:Ama Lorenz
located in:Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, USA, Niger
tags:ocean pollution, oil spill

There are a lot of wastes that enter ocean surfaces that end up leading to the pollution of the oceans. A larger percentage of these wastes come from oil spills, which might range from accidental leaks or spills to the careless and habitual release of oil and oil products leading to large scale pollution.

A significant percentage of oil spills in the ocean comes from oily storm water that through drainage finds its way to the ocean from:

Approximately 2.6 billion litres of waste oil finds its way to the ocean annually with over 50% of that amount coming from waste disposal and land drainage including the improper disposal of motor oil that easily flows to the oceans through stormwater.

Activities like offshore oil production operations including drilling plus leaks and spills from tankers and ships contribute to approximately 8% of the total amount of oil waste that finds its way to the ocean surfaces. 

Furthermore, nearly 20% originates from the routine maintenance of water vessels like ships while 13% comes from hydrocarbon particles from the air pollution onshore. The remaining over 8% comes from seafloor through natural seepage.

Behaviour of oil spills

Oil spills, depending on their composition and relative density, will typically spread on the surface of the water when it enters the ocean. In most cases, the slick oil that is formed remains cohesive but in some instances break due to the waves, wind force and currents especially in the rough seas that make the slick slowly spread to the large areas spreading the impact to the open oceans, terrestrial and marine habitats plus the coastal regions.

In some cases, the oil spills may contain volatile organic components that have the ability to partially evaporate making the oil lose about 20-40% of its mass making it become just a bit more denser thus more viscous especially becoming resistant to natural flow. 

After some time due to actions of weathering, the oil deteriorates thus disintegrating through photolysis and biodegradation depending on the availability of oxygen, microorganisms and oxygen in the presence of sufficient temperatures.

Some known oil spills in the ocean examples

Over history, the oceans have been unfortunate to experience a number of oil spills that led to significant effects that remain infamous to date. The following are some of the most known oil spills:

  • The Persian Gulf Oil spill: This spill saw over 888 million litres of oil spill into the ocean near Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, marking the largest known oil spill in history that involved several tankers, storage tanks and port facilities get destroyed as a result of war.
  • The Ixtoc I blowout in 1979: this is ultimately the second largest known oil spill in history on the exploratory well offshore in Mexico that saw over 518 million litres of oil drain into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989: The accident saw over 40 million litres of oil gush out to the Prince William Sound offshore Alaska.

Impact on marine life

In the event an oil spill happens, the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals is destroyed and bird’s with water repellent feathers are exposed to harsh elements that are detrimental to their health. 

When these creatures lack their insulating and water repellent capabilities, then the chances of these creatures surviving the cold water and dying of hypothermia largely increase exposing them to significant threat.

Some marine life like fish and shellfish may take some time to come into contact with the threat but when they do, there may be cases of stunted growth, fin erosion, reproduction impairment, enlarged livers and some changes in the respiration and heart rates. Additionally, oil has some adverse effects on the survival of eggs and larvae.

Damage to recreation and wildlife

Oil spills in the ocean have tremendous potential to create serious harm to wildlife other than sea creatures, reptiles and amphibians. Wildlife will grow vulnerable to the toxic effects of oil spills including deterioration and smothering f thermal insulation plus significant damage to reproductive behaviours and systems. 

Apart from that, there could be significant ecological effects in the long-run including the damage to the marine organic substrate, which will go a long way in interrupting the food chain that may lead to the change or disappearance of some populations of species.

The recreational appeal of the coastal regions that are mostly populated with tourist attractions and recreational facilities and activities like scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming, boating, fishing and places like beaches, nature preserves and parks will experience a he threat. 

This is because instances of oil spills lead to invasion of and pollution of these areas an activities hence negatively affecting the various human activities that people engage in along the coast leading to long-term and devastating effects on both the society and local economy. Furthermore, the property market will tend to dwindle making the investment horizon along the coast a risky endeavour.

Recovery and cleanup

The cleanup and recovery of oil spills largely depend on the type and characteristics of the environment that is involved. For instance, the activities could depend on whether the area affected is an open ocean, wetland or the coastal region. 

Some of the measures to control the pollution could include removal of the oil spills through filtering, skimming and in situ combustion or containment.

Other control or preventive measures include:

  • Dispersion into smaller droplets that will enable the limitation of immediate wildlife damage;
  • Normal weathering processes;
  • Assisted and natural biodegradation.

It is imperative to note that oil spill countermeasures for the process of cleaning up and removing oil spills are generally applied based on the interrelated factors like health risks, ecological protection and socioeconomic reasons.

Article written by:
198719_2171697684668_4097646_n
Ama Lorenz
Editor-in-Chief, Editorial Board Member, Author
Kuwait Saudi Arabia USA Niger
A significant percentage of oil spills in the ocean comes from oily stormwater that drainage that finds its way to the ocean from: Farms, Industrial facilities, Cities, Boating activities that are unregulated and Factories releasing untreated waste disposal.
Approximately 2.6 billion litres of waste oil finds its way to the ocean annually.
The Persian Gulf Oil spill: This spill saw over 888 million litres of oil spill into the ocean near Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, marking the largest known oil spill in history.