MONTEREY, CA – On the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound and in the shadow of the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we should pause and reflect on the impacts these events have had and continue to have on marine species and our oceans.
The Exxon Valdez Spill tested the abilities of local, national, and industrial organizations to prepare for, and respond to, a disaster of such magnitude.
“We have come a long way in spill response since 1989 but southern sea otters still remain in harm’s way from one unintentional oil tanker accident off the central California coast. A catastrophic oil spill occurring within the current sea otter range could decimate the entire population,” said Brad Hunt, Program Manager of The Otter Project.
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound spilling more than 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill was the largest in U.S. history, before Deep Water Horizon, having a significant impact on marine life and the near shore ecosystem.
More than a thousand otters became coated with oil in the days following the spill, and 871 were found dead. Estimates of the total number of sea otters lost to acute mortality vary, but range as high as 40 percent (2,650) of the approximately 6,500 sea otters inhabiting the areas of the Sound. The Prince William Sound sea otter population has still not fully recovered 23 years later.
These statistics are alarming when we consider that in California during the last two years we have seen the highest levels of southern sea otter mortality that have ever been recorded. This is cause for concern given the recent population decline and stagnant growth rate. One large oil spill in the region could push the population to the edge of extinction.
Oil tanker traffic along the California coast was a founding issue for The Otter Project. Last year, The Otter Project hosted a Monterey County Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Workshop to increase understanding of the California non-wildlife and wildlife volunteer plans and how local organizations in the Monterey Bay Area fit into the overall picture of oil spill response before, during, and after an event.
The Otter Project also recently attended the Environmental Response to Oil Spills (EROS) training course hosted by California Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (DFG-OSPR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration (NOAA ORR).
“The key take away from our perspective is that prevention of an oil spill is preferred to response. As leaders in southern sea otter recovery, we remain engaged in oil spill response and vessel traffic monitoring to ensure an event like the Exxon Valdez does not occur on our coastline,” said Hunt.
For more information about our efforts, please contact Brad Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or to learn more, check out our website at www.otterproject.org.