Last summer, in the heart of New Orleans, a 600-foot tanker collided with a 200-foot fuel barge, tearing the barge in half. Several hundred thousand gallons of oil leaked out of the barge and into the fast-flowing Mississippi River, heading quickly towards the ocean.
The oil spread down the river in minutes, immediately threatening drinking water intakes and wildlife.
Responders sprang into action within hours of the accident. Using computer models and weather forecasts, they determined the path of the spill. With helicopter surveys, they assessed the damage and dispatched cleanup crews.
Specialized boats with oil collection devices on their bows were sent to the scene. These devices, called skimmers, act like vacuums across the surface of the water. Hundreds of trained workers cleaned riverbanks and marshes using an unexpected tool – pom-poms.
Noxious fumes from oil harm animals that can’t avoid it, and others can be covered in it—leading to suffocation and death. Birds that get enough oil on their feathers eventually lose their ability to fly, and oiled sea otters can suffer from hypothermia.
When oil spills occur, it can shut down beaches and fishing grounds. It can also lead to public evacuations.
Environmental disasters can be prevented if cleanup efforts being immediately. While large oil spills like the one in New Orleans last summer contribute to oil pollution, the ocean suffers from far more than the occasional spill that hits national headlines. In fact, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil end up in the ocean every year, and only 5% of that is from big spills.
Most people don’t realize that oil residue on roadways and oil dumped into storm drains are the number one source of oil pollution in the ocean. For the sake of humans and animals, let’s keep oil out of our ocean.