Letters to the Editor

Woeful memories of Exxon Valdez | Letters

I am writing to thank Shaun Hubbard for reminding us of the impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the communities of Prince William Sound and elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska (“The long shadow of Exxon Valdez,” March 5, pg. 6).

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground I was a research biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service Auke Bay Laboratory near Juneau, Alaska. Auke Bay Laboratory scientists undertook several studies to determine the impact of the spill on marine fish and invertebrates.

My specific responsibility was to design a field study, the goal of which was to map the distribution of Exxon Valdez oil in intertidal and subtidal sediments over time, to supervise the collection of sediment samples in the field, and to report on the results of the study. We spent the next 10-plus years of my career documenting the changes in the distribution of the oil.

After my retirement the lab was still finding weathered Exxon Valdez oil buried in intertidal sediments in Prince William Sound, 22 years after the spill.

After the sediment study I participated in inter-agency studies assessing the degree to which populations of sea otters and harlequin ducks had recovered a decade after the spill. I am therefore familiar with the long-term impact a major oil spill can have on marine organisms.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill destroyed the livelihood and in many cases the lives of inhabitants of Prince William Sound dependent on the marine environment. The impact was not short-lived.

When construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal was completed in Valdez in 1977 several prescient members of the fisheries community argued that when it came to an oil spill in Prince William Sound the question was not “if” but “when”.

It took only a dozen years before the inevitable became reality

Charles E. O’Clair, Friday Harbor


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