Oil Stain Persists after 20 Years


Otters are just one item on the Trustee Council's official list of resources and services injured by the spill, which includes both animal species and such things as the subsistence activities of Native Alaskan communities. Judging by that list, the post-spill sound is indeed improving, but it still has a ways to go. Ten of the 31 items on the list are considered "recovered," including bald eagles, harbor seals and common loons. Meanwhile, 14 items are making "substantive progress" toward recovery, though exactly how much progress differs in each case: For example, killer whales are classified as "recovering," even though that description applies to just one of the two orca pods observed in the sound; there isn't much hope for the other. Finally, two species -- the Pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot -- are barely showing any improvement, and for five items on the list there's inconclusive evidence to make a call either way. It's important to note, though, that factors other than the spill may be hampering progress for these animals and resources. In the case of the herring, for example, disease and predators seem to be far more of a problem than oil pollution.

On a positive note, a number of new spill prevention and response tactics have been established in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez tragedy. For example, tankers passing through the sound are now accompanied by two escort vessels, which monitor the bigger ship and carry emergency response personnel, containment booms (water-borne fences that can corral oil spills) and equipment to skim spilled oil from the water's surface. The Trustee Council also reports that it has protected more than 647,000 acres of habitat in the affected area.