• Posted by: Nick

What Are the Environmental Effects of an Oil Spill?

Oil spills have a devastating effect on the environment. With large oil companies operating around the world, the risk of oil spills is greater than ever. Oil spills in the last several decades have disrupted reef ecosystems, wildlife breeding grounds and coastal environments. Food chains become unbalanced and reduced growth of species occurs in the local ecosystem. 

Oil spills are a tragedy to the environment that can often be prevented. In the modern era, systems are being developed to help contain, disperse and remove oil. Even with new technology, large scale oil operations can pose a threat to the environment. In this article, we discuss the environmental effects of an oil spill.

IMPACT ON MARINE ECOSYSTEMS

In the last few decades, there has been an increase in offshore drilling and the use of oil tanker ships. Tankers crashing and drill rigs exploding are examples of accidents that have happened recently. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected much of the marine and coastal ecosystem of the Mexican Gulf. 

When large amounts of oil reach the ocean, an oil slick can form. The layer of slick floats on the surface and can stretch for kilometres, blocking out the sun for the subsurface environment.

The marine ecosystem is complex and fragile. One of the smallest organisms in the world lives in the ocean and depends on sunlight for its existence. Phytoplanktons are tiny organisms that use the sun’s energy to create organic compounds. They are responsible for more than half the oxygen in the world. An oil slick can completely block out sun exposure for kilometres, impacting the very first level of the food chain. 

EFFECTS OF OIL SPILLS ON COASTLINES

Oil slicks can be moved by currents and wind, eventually reaching coastlines. The gulf coasts have been particularly affected by oil spills. The Ixtoc 1 oil spill resulted in 3.3 million barrels of crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil reached the surrounding coastlines, covering birds and marine life in oil. 

Many coastal birds are affected by oil spills. The oil coats the birds as they dive into the water to catch their food. Birds have natural protection against water and wind that can fail when covered in layers of oil. The fish that the seabirds eat are also covered in oil, and with constant attempts to clean the oil from their feathers, a deadly amount can be digested. 

The awareness of oil spills and their impact on coastlines has increased in past years. Volunteers and environmental protection agencies are responding to spills and helping the coastal wildlife. Coastal ecosystems are vital to the world. We need to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help preserve them. 

DAMAGE TO MARINE MAMMALS AND WILDLIFE 

Marine mammals like dolphins and whales that require surfacing to breathe, can be severely impacted by oil spills. As they surface, their blowhole can become coated in oil, making it difficult for them to breathe. The food supply for many of these mammals can become contaminated with oil, resulting in the death of many creatures. 

Mammals, like seals, suffer the same fate as birds when they become coated in oil. The fur of a seal protects it from hypothermia when in cold water, but its effectiveness is drastically worse when covered by a layer of oil. Like other marine wildlife, the seal makes its home on the coast. With a contaminated food supply and a destroyed habitat, the migration of these animals can be disrupted. 

The effects of an oil spill can have a long-lasting impact on ecosystems. Some of the world’s largest spills happened decades ago, yet the impact they had on the environment is still unravelling. It may be years in the future that we discover the true impact that these spills have had. 

SUMMARY

Offshore oil platforms and new oil refineries produce and transport vast amounts of oil across the world. Due to oil spills occurring, more than a million tonnes of oil has entered our ocean. Oil spill effects can disrupt an entire ecosystem, from fish eggs to adult fish.

Whether it’s waste oil from your car or 3 million barrels of oil, we should always try to contain and prevent oil spills. Environmental science and modern technology have provided us with the means to minimise the effects of oil spills. 

Ecospill is a company dedicated to helping you meet your environmental obligations. Through extensive testing and research, we ensure that our products are up to date with industry regulations. We have developed a wide range of spill kits and containment systems to handle the effects of oil spills and toxic chemicals.

Contact us, to find out how Ecospill can help you.