“What is an oil Spill?” An oil spill is a release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human activities and is a form of pollution. Oil spills normally refer to the marine environment when oil is released from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs and wells. “What effect do oil spills have?” First of all, oil is a fire hazard. Even if the oil is lying on the water it can catch fire and create air pollution causing respiratory distress. Secondly, oil spills have a negative effect on coastal birds and marine mammals because the oil penetrates the feathers and fur, thus reducing their insulating capabilities making the animals more vulnerable to temperature changes. Thirdly, the oil can contaminate drinking water and fish species that are consumed by humans and wildlife.
The environmental impact that oil has had on marine animals (especially birds) has been catastrophic for some species. Marine animals that rely on scent to find their babies or mothers after being separated will no longer be able to do so because the strong smell of oil masks their natural scents. This can result in mothers rejecting or abandoning their babies which will in turn, starve to death. Oil spills impact birds in several ways. For example their ability to fly is reduced which prevents them foraging and escaping from predators. Additionally, oiled birds ingest the oil on their feathers while they are pruning, causing fatal damage to their liver and kidneys.
The successful cleanup after an oil spill depends on many factors, e.g. what type of oil it is, the temperature of the water and the type of beach or shoreline it is. Some of the methods used to clean up an oil spill are Bioremediation (use of biological agents to break down or remove oil), controlled burning, dredging, solidifying (changing liquid to semi-solid that floats on the water) and beach raking (coagulated oil on the beach can be picked up).
The first large oil spill that affected the South African coastline was when the MV Apollo Sea sank near Cape Town in June 1994. The oil leaking from the vessel caused a major environmental disaster and killed thousands of seabirds like the endangered. African Penguin. Over 10,000 penguins were collected and cleaned and of those approximately 5,000 survived. In June 2000 when the MV Treasure ran aground it created another problem for the African Penguins. The oil from MV Treasure spread towards Robben Island (the largest colony) and Dassen Island (the third largest colony) colonies of African Penguins. The MV Treasure oil spill is classified as South Africa’s worst environmental disaster where over 20,000 penguins were oiled and over 2,000 died. The amount of work needed to help the penguins was enormous because volunteers caught oiled penguins to clean and non-oiled penguins to prevent them from getting oiled. 90% of the oiled penguins were released into the wild again, but because they had been on the main land 27% of those released have died annually from avian malaria. In 2013 a ship ran aground in Goukamma Nature Reserve outside of Knysna. It was a minor spill and only 227 birds were affected and 95% of them were successfully rehabilitated.
Article written by Ocean Blue Adventures.