Saturday, February 7, 2009

EVOS Program on Friday, March 20, 2009

There are 5 compelling and surprising stories of long term effects to species and habitats that were not predicted at the time of the settlement in 1991: 2 pods of killer whales continue to struggle from the initial effects of the oil spill; liquid oil was found to be persisting a few inches below the surface of more than half the beaches surveyed in 2001; pink salmon embryos were impacted through the fall of 1993- some four years past the spill; sea otters populations in the northern Knight island area struggled well into the second decade. Herring remain depressed following a population collapse after the spill, although scientists can not say for certain what the role of the spill was in their collapse or lack of recovery since.

All of these impacts were surprising to scientists following the spill; documentation of long term effects were generally lacking in previous spills, but no spill in history has been followed as closely, or as long as the Exxon Valdez spill. Collectively, these findings, from several groups of researchers, have changed the way we assess and measure the long term impacts of a spill, and these findings will likely affect the strategies of prevention and clean-up after a spill for a long time.

Dr. Stanley “Jeep” Rice will present these long term observations. Jeep was originally hired in 1971 at the Auke Bay Lab in Juneau of the National Marine Fisheries Service as a toxicologist to first work on the Environmental Impact Statement for then proposed TransAlaska Pipeline. With approval of the pipeline, Jeep gathered together a team of biologists and chemists and initiated studies to determine toxicity of crude oil to Alaskan species, and to establish baseline sites in Prince William Sound to document the low level of oil contamination. The team was productive for more than a decade prior to the spill, and as experts in the field of oil toxicity, were thrust into the sound quickly in response to the spill. Baseline sites were re-sampled before and after the spill contaminated them; and several damage assessment studies were initiated in the first summer of the spill. Most agencies lacked chemical and oil expertise, and we became partners in many studies. Twenty years later, our group has published more than 150 papers, and we have lead or been involved with some of the highest profile studies. Our lab continues to be the primary laboratory for analyzing for oil contamination and maintains a database of thousands of samples dating back to the 1970s prior to the oil spill. Today, we continue with lingering oil and herring studies; our interests, along with the EVOS Trustee council interest has evolved over time, from species specific damage assessment to ecosystem recovery. We still have concerns for the recovery of killer whales, contamination in the intertidal zone, lingering exposure to sea otters, and the lack of recovery in herring is perplexing.

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