Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: The Aftermath

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was a horrifying accident at Prince William Sound nearly destroying the area's fragile ecosystem. It is slowly improving, but still has a long way to go.

At midnight on March 24, 1989, a black stain spread through the waters of Southern Alaska. Millions of gallons of oil gushed into the sea from a tear in an enormous ship. The

Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, had crashed into the rocks at Prince William Sound.

None of the scientists and volunteers who went to Alaska were prepared for what they found at the site of the spill. Dead fish lay on the shore, birds were covered in sticky oil and unable to fly, and sea otters licked their fur to clean off the oil.

An emergency hospital was set up immediately for the oily sea otters. The scientists scrubbed the oily otters with soap and water. Some of the sea otters lived, but many did not. Three thousand sea otters were killed by the deadly oil spill.

In addition to the sea otters, the oil spill killed 250,000 sea birds, 300 harbor seals, and 250 bald eagles. Twenty-two orcas, or killer whales, were killed also. It was impossible to count all the fish and small sea creatures that died, but scientists estimate the death toll in the billions.

More than two billion dollars were spent to clean up Prince William Sound. Half of that money was paid by the Exxon Corporation, the company that owned the oil tanker. The cleanup was not completed until 1992. A special council was created to oversee the recovery of the area. The council gives reports on the animals that were damaged in the spill. The council helps decide, along with scientists, how to best help the animals that live in Prince William Sound.

Scientists continue to study the area. There has been a lot of improvement in Prince William Sound, but the ecosystem has a long way to go before it returns to normal. An ecosystem is made up of the plants and animals that live in an area. Each living thing in the ecosystem depends on other living things. That means when the fish die, there is less food for the seals that eat them. As the seals die, there is less food for the orcas that eat seals. Humans also play a role in the ecosystem. Some people in Alaska still depend on seal meat for food.

Fishing is also a source of income for the people there. As the seals and fish struggle to survive, so do the people who depend on them.

More than ten years later, some good has come from the spill of the Exxon Valdez, though it was a terrible accident. The government has bought 650,000 acres of land to protect the animals that live there. Because of this, the recovery of the area will not be disturbed by humans. Scientists have also learned a lot. The data scientists gathered gave them a better understanding of the area's ecosystem.

If disaster ever strikes again in Prince William Sound, the experience scientists gained will save many animals. Scientists could take a lot better care of the animals now because they have learned so much.

© High Speed Ventures 2011