Effects of Oil Spills

Oil is a toxic substance and has harmful effects on both the natural and cultural resources in national parks. Most people think of oil spills occurring in oceans and coasts but spills happen inland as well from things like pipelines, trains, and oil tankers. The longer the oil is left in the ecosystem the more damage it can do, making a quick clean up important. Unfortunately, oil is difficult to recover once it is spilled because so much of it remains in the ecosystem and can have long-term effects on natural and cultural resources. When in water:

  • One drop of oil will cover the area of a two-car garage.

  • One pint of oil can cover one acre of water surface.

  • One quart of oil can cover two acres (or nearly 3 football fields) of water surface.

small crab on rocks, covered in black oil
Oiled crab

NPS Photo

Effects On Natural Resources

Different types of marine and terrestrial life are affected in various ways by oil spills. In general when any animal becomes covered in oil it will try to clean and preen itself, thereby ingesting the toxic oil. This can cause serious internal organ damage and problems with reproduction. Other injuries can be caused by inhaling fumes from the oil, eating oil-covered prey or vegetation, or directly contacting the oil. Oil spills have both short-term effects that include mortality as well as long-term effects that affect the animal’s ability to survive and reproduce.

single black oil drop floating in water
Oil drop in water column from WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

NPS Photo

Effects On Cultural Resources

National parks are home to unique wildlife and plant life but they also contain historical monuments, cultural art and artifacts, forts, and lighthouses. Oil spills can damage these cultural and archaeological resources as well. Parks who have these priceless and irreplaceable resources, like Fort Frederica and Fort Pulaski, have prepared plans for any spill that might occur to ensure visitors can enjoy these things for generations.

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