In the past few hours the news has spread through Australian and International media that the spill has been plugged. The company has said that a small fire remains on the rig, but ostensibly the immediate disaster is contained ... but it is far, far from over.
Oil and its toxic impacts will remain in the region for years to come. The animals who call this place home will be living with their impacts in their food chains and in themselves for an unknown amount of time.
As I write this I am reminded of news that came to the fore many years after the Exxon disaster had fallen from conscious minds.
Orca were photographed in oil after the 1989 ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill, but preliminary damage assessments did not definitively link mortalities to the spill and could not evaluate recovery.How many animals, communities, populations and probably even species will we have lost becasue of these 10 weeks of human folly. Sadly we many never know the full truth of it.
2 separate orca populations were monitories 5 yr prior to and for 16 yr after the spill. The two populations suffered losses of 33 and 41%, respectively, in the year following the spill. Sixteen years after 1989, the first populations had not recovered to pre-spill numbers and its rate of increase was significantly less than that of other resident pods that were not associated with the spill. The second population, which lost 9 members following the spill, continued to decline. Although there may be other contributing factors, the loss of important individuals, including reproductive-age females, accelerated this population’s trajectory toward extinction.
The synchronous losses of unprecedented numbers of orca from 2 ecologically and genetically separate groups and the absence of other obvious perturbations strengthens the link between the mortalities and lack of recovery, and the ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill.
(Source: Matkin C, Saulitis E, Ellis G, Olesiuk P and Rice S, Ongoing population-level impacts on killer whales Orcinus orca following the ‘Exxon Valdez’ oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, Marine Ecologic Progress Series, 356:269-281, 2008)