Oil spills happen when there are mistakes during transportation, some damage caused to drilling equipment or natural causes. Thus, oil is a highly polluting element, hence it not only has immediate negative effects, but also in the long term in ecosystems.

Immediate effects of an oil spill

  • Being covered by oil marine animals bear negative consequences on their plumage and skin. Therefore, its body will not work correctly.
  • Animals that breathe through gills can be suffocated.
  • Once this element comes into contact with water hinders movement and prevents animals to find food or escape predators.
  • It can affect small animals, cause mutations or death of younger animals and future generations.
  • It can contaminate algae and other marine sources of food, causing the extinction of some species of plants and animals.

Long-term effects

  • Animals that consume contaminated seaweed from the bottom of the sea, die due to poisoning.
  • Coral reefs have a high probability of dying.
  • There are different types of oil, which have different chemical compounds, most have polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are toxic or even contain benzene, which is carcinogenic.
  • The ecosystems of sea beds or coastal areas, affected by spills, sometimes require up to a century for their recovery.
  • Incorporation of potentially carcinogenic substances in the food chain, both animal and human.
  • Oil can infiltrate drinking water systems, or the ground and cause diseases including death.

How can an ecosystem affected by an oil spill be recovered?

Currently there are environmentally friendly cleaning methods. To eliminate the damage caused by oil spills, should be aware that there are ecosystems can recover faster than others, some take decades, some centuries. On the one hand, collection nets are the most used tools, since they allow to collect the oil from the surface of the water quite effectively. Besides, sponges can be used to absorb the oil. On the other, biodegradation is a natural cleaning system in which microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, feed on hydrocarbons and transform them into other non-polluting chemical substances.

Daniela Parra
Digital Content Analyst