It's been nearly 30 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. But that crisis pales in comparison to these recent ocean disasters.
10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters/via REUTERS
- Thirty years ago, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in in Alaska's Prince William Sound and dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean.
- The spill affected almost the entire Alaskan coastline, killing birds, sea otters, harbor seals, orcas and other wildlife.
- Since Exxon Valdez, more than 9,500 tanker spills have occurred worldwide. Some 20 years later, the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico dumped 19 times more oil into the ocean than Exxon Valdez did.
- Humans also contaminate global waters by dumping industrial waste water and polluting the ocean with plastic.
- Often, recovery from the effects of these man-made disasters takes decades. In the case of Exxon Valdez, some oil still lingers in the Gulf of Alaska.
At 12:04 am on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck the Bligh Reef, less than 2 miles off the coast of Alaska.
In the remote waters of the Gulf of Alaska, the tanker hemorrhaged some 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean.
An ill-timed storm followed, spreading the oil along Alaska's coastline. Hundreds of thousands of animals died, and even after billions of dollars spent on clean-up efforts, the environment remains tainted by oil.
At the time, Exxon Valdez was the worst disaster of its kind in US history. But today, the spill barely cracks the list of the 40 worst tanker oil spills around the world, according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF).
The Gulf oil spill - sometimes called the Deepwater Horizon or BP spill - off the coast of Louisiana blew the Exxon Valdez record out of the water. That disaster poured some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days between April and July 2010. An area the size of Rhode Island was closed off from fishing, and local economies tanked. And yet these two US disasters still pale in comparison to some of their international counterparts.
Here are 13 of the most devastating man-made ocean disasters in history.
When the topic of environmental disasters comes up, many Americans quickly think of the Exxon Valdez spill.
March 24, 2019 marks the 30-year anniversary of the disaster. Much of the oil that spilled in 1989 still lingers in the area.
The spill blackened 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline.
But the cause of the spill — and the extent of the destruction it wrought on local wildlife — is still unclear.
The first major oil spill ever occurred two years before Exxon Valdez, off the coast of Cornwall, England in 1967.
Soldiers from the UK Hampshire Regiment reportedly hosed detergent into the sea in an effort to remove the oil.
Two decades after the Exxon Valdez disaster, the US saw another devastating oil spill.
The Gulf oil spill leaked 19 times more oil than the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Only 25% of the leaked oil was recovered, leaving more than 154 million gallons in the ocean.
The pollution from the disaster caused fishing closures across 88,500 square miles.
It wasn't the first big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1979, Mexico experienced a "Deepwater Horizon" of its own, when the Ixtoc oil well exploded and sank.
The previous year, the Amoco Cadiz tanker dumped more than 65 million gallons of oil into the English Channel off the coast of Brittany, France.
The Amoco Cadiz didn't run aground like the Rena or Exxon Valdez. Instead, the ship had put out a distress call, saying it was no longer able to maneuver. Then it broke into two pieces.
When the oil tanker Haven exploded in April 1991, the resulting fire swept through the ship, killing five crew members.
Luckily, only 6 million gallons of that 41 million leaked into the ocean.
Oil from the Haven spill made it all the way to the French Riviera.
In 2000, a pipeline at a state-owned oil refinery in Brazil leaked almost 350,000 gallons of crude oil into the Guanabara Bay. Local animals paid a heavy price.
New Zealand experienced its worst-ever maritime environmental disaster in 2011, when the vessel Rena struck the Astrolabe Reef near Fiji.
But an even more recent and devastating oil spill occurred last year in the East China Sea.
The Sanchi spill leaked more than 32 million gallons of ultra-light crude oil, which is extremely flammable and highly toxic if inhaled.
Oil is toxic to fish in high quantities, and can also accumulate in their body tissue and be passed up the food web.
Sea turtles are also particularly vulnerable to oil spills.
For sea birds, oil that sticks to their feathers can lead them to lose their ability to maintain a steady body temperature, which means they could freeze to death.
But tanker oil spills aren't the only way humans have wreaked havoc on the oceans.
And oil isn't the only pollutant humans have dumped into water systems, either.
Dogs, cats, pigs, and humans were poisoned by the contaminated fish. The effects of the mercury lasted for years after that dumping stopped.
Humans have also been putting an unprecedented amount of plastic into the ocean.
These floating plastic garbage patches threaten marine life and humans, too.
There's also the issue of polluted run-off water that enters the ocean from other waterways. In the Gulf of Mexico, that run-off has created a "dead zone" for marine life.
Regardless of the toxic substance — whether it's oil, chemicals, or trash — cleaning up pollution in water isn't an easy task. These efforts can take decades and cost billions.
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