exxon oil spill clean upexxon oil spill clean up

On his hands and knees, a member of the clean up crew scrubs the oil soaked rocks on Naked Island in the Prince William Sound, April 2, 1989.

Mike Blake/Reuters


Cordova is a town on the east coast of Prince William Sound in Alaska. A sound is a section of the ocean that is between coastlines.

cordova alaska

Cordova, Alaska.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images


Source: The New York Times, World Atlas

In the 1970s and 1980s, Cordova was a hot spot for commercial herring and salmon fishing. 800 of the town’s 2,100 people were fishermen. Their collective catch amounted to as much as $40 million.

cordova alaska 1970

Snow-covered fishing boats dock for the winter in the Cordova harbor marina in the 1970s.

Joel W. Rogers/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images


Source: The New York Times

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound, spilling more than 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean.

exxon oil spill alaska

Containment booms surround the oil tanker Exxon Valdez after it ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989.

Courtesy NOAA/Handout via REUTERS


Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The oil spread about 1,300 miles down the coast. At the time, it was the biggest oil spill in history.

prince william sound map

Prince William Sound is on the south coast of Alaska.

Google Maps/Business Insider


Source: National Geographic

The spill killed 250,000 seabirds, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and around 3,000 sea otters per a National Geographic article.

exxon oil spill

An oil-soaked sea bird rests in a towel in the animal rescue center as it was covered in oil from the Exxon Valdez.

REUTERS/Mike Blake


Source: National Geographic

The spill also killed billions of salmon eggs and caused the area’s Pacific herring population, which fishermen heavily relied on, to plummet.

1989 alaska oil spill

A crewman from the USCGC Glacier adjusts a containment boom following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS


Source: National Geographic

Rick Steiner, a marine biologist, told National Geographic that it’s impossible to clean up an oil spill entirely. In 2016, Smithsonian Magazine said that this is because there is no technology that can clean it up fast enough.

exxon oil spill alaska

U.S. Navy Mechanized Landing Crafts are seen anchored along the shoreline as Navy and civilian personnel position hoses during oil clean-up efforts in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Courtesy United States Navy/Handout via REUTERS


Source: National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine

By 1994, scientists estimated that 50% of the oil in Prince William Sound had biodegraded, 20% had evaporated, and 14% had been cleaned.

alaska oil spill 1989 exxon

An attempt to contain oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Sawmill Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS


Source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

That means that 16% of the oil remained — 13% in sediments, 2% on shorelines, and 1% remained in the ocean.

exxon oil spill alaska 1989

A sea otter prepares to dive off a dock in the harbor in Cordova, Alaska in 1999.

JUDY GRIESEDIECK/Star Tribune via Getty Images


Source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-led 2015 study found that these oil levels were linked to growth problems in salmon and herring.

exxon oil spill alaska

Oil is shown seeping from underground in water in a hole dug on a beach on Eleanor Island, Alaska, in 2010.

Lindsay Claiborn/Reuters


Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

The study stated that fish embryos absorb oil into their skin while they are developing into fully-formed fish and this reduces their ability to swim and their chance of survival.

exxon oil spill 1989

A hand drips with oil at Smith Island on Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 30, 1989.

Erik Hill/Anchorage Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images


Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Between 1990 and 1992, Alaska caught a record number of salmon and herring. However, in 1994, both species’ populations plummeted and the local herring fishery closed. State and federal scientists said this was linked to the lingering oil in the ocean, the New York Times reported in 1994.

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 8, 2015 file photo, herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine. A study published Tuesday, June 11, 2019 finds a warmer world may lose a billion tons of fish and other marine life by the end of the century. The international study used computer models to project that for every degree Celsius the world warms, the total weight of life in the oceans drop by 5%. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine in 2015.

Associated Press


Source: The New York Times

The state sued Exxon following the spill, and the federal government said the company violated the Clean Water Act, which states that no one can add pollutants to water without a permit. It cost the oil company more than $1 billion in settlements.

exxon oil spill alaska

Workers steam blast rocks soaked in crude oil from the leaking tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989.

Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS


Source: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Business Insider

In 2006, U.S. and state officials asked Exxon to pay an additional $92 million for cleaning up long-term damages. The company refused and in 2015, the judicial action was dropped.

exxon oil spill

A United States Coast Guard patrol boat crosses the bow of the Exxon Valdez as the tanker is towed to Naked Island for repairs in 1989.

Courtesy United States Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS


Source: Business Insider

More than 32,000 fishermen and Alaska residents collectively sued Exxon for its impact on the fishing industry which had led to economic depression in Cordova, The New York Times reported in 1994. They sued for $5 billion, but the Supreme Court changed the amount to half a billion in 2008.

exxon oil spill 1989 cordova alaska

Fisherman RJ Kopchak paints a Supreme Court Exxon Valdez court ruling protest banner in Cordova, Alaska, in 2008.

Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images


Sources: The Washington Post, The New York Times

After the spill, some who initially moved to Cordova for the fishing industry began traveling south to California. Others turned to odd jobs like construction work.

salmon cordova alaska

Pamela Smith gets some help from her son Jim Smith bottling smoked salmon at their home in Cordova, Alaska, on July 10, 2010.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images


Sources: NPR, The New York Times, NPR

By 2014, salmon, cod, and halibut populations had rebounded in Cordova, but herrings had not.

salmon alaska

Sockeye salmon are seen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in an undated handout picture provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

REUTERS/Environmental Protection Agency/Handout via Reuters


Source: NPR

The Alaska Department of Fishing and Game has not released a report on Commercial Herring Fisheries in Prince William Sound in four years. According to the latest report in 2016, the commercial harvest of the fish was not likely the following year.

exxon oil spill alaska

A salesperson at Sugar and Spice in Valdez, Alaska, shows off some of the latest in T-shirt fashions on sale in 1989.

Nick Didlick/Reuters


Source: The State of Alaska, The Alaska Department of Fishing and Game

But Cordova’s fishing industry is making do without the herring population. According to a 2018 study, residents made $33 million in gross fish earnings.

CORDOVA, AK fishing

Fishermen enjoy a lazy evening of fishing in Cordova, Alaska, on Monday, August 2, 2010.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images


Source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

In May 2020, the New York Times reported that the fishing town is concerned that about this year’s Copper River salmon season because of the coronavirus. The small town is worried that out-of-state travelers will spread the virus in Cordova.

cordova fishing industry

Russell Dardar, a fisherman from Montegut, Louisiana, takes a moment to relax on the ferry ride from Whittier to Cordova, Alaska, in 2010.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images


Source: The New York Times

Thousands of fishermen from around the world travel to the town each year to catch Copper River salmon, which sell for about $75 a pound.

Copper River Salmon

Copper River Salmon in Boulder, Colorado, in 2005.

Mark Leffingwell/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images


Source: The New York Times

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