Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Alaska Sea Grant Schedules Oil Spill Workshop

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound an oil spill workshop is planned for Feb. 20-21 in Anchorage, Alaska, as part of a national series sponsored by the Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program.

The event, a collaboration of the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative; and Sea Grant programs around the country, will focus on public health, social disruption and the economic impacts of major spills. The goal is to identify specific regional needs and priorities for improving preparedness. Presenters from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, the US Coast Guard and Sea Grant hope to come away with protocols to build resilience in the event of future spills.

The Exxon Valdez environmental disaster polluted thousands of square kilometers of sea surface just before the arrival in Prince William Sound of the annual migrations of fish, birds and sea mammals.

The spill has been the subject of renewed discussion as the anniversary date approaches. Retired NOAA research chemist Jeff Short, a lead chemist for the state and federal government in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, spoke about the legacy of the spill at the recent 2019 Alaska Marine Science Symposium presented in Anchorage, Alaska. Short noted that research funded by a $900 million fund from the settlement has led to major discoveries regarding effects of the spill, including the ecotoxicology of oil pollution, the persistence of oil and long-term impairment of marine life populations. That research had direct benefit in early detection of abrupt ecosystem changes, such as oceanographic regime shifts and the recent marine heat wave in the Gulf of Alaska, known as “the Blob.”

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