30 Years After The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – The Effects Still Linger

Source: Hakai Magazine/Tim Lydon 

Photo: Mr Karl/Unsplash


Dig a shallow hole into certain beaches along Alaska’s Prince William Sound and you will still find oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. As your shovel scrapes through gravel, the crude will mix with the water seeping into the small hole.

The first time I did this was nine years ago, while visiting researchers studying the spill’s lingering impacts. Holding an oil-stained stone in my gloved hand, my mind flashed to March 24, 1989, when I first heard the news that the Exxon Valdez, a 300-meter tanker, had run aground on Bligh Reef. I was a college student in New York. As the spill and its chaotic aftermath unfolded on national news—with oil fouling 2,200 kilometers of coastline, killing wildlife and ruining livelihoods—my budding interest in environmental issues grew. That soon led to a seasonal job in Alaska.

Today, I teach a continuing education course about Prince William Sound to small groups of Alaskan teachers. For the class, we camp out on one of the sound’s scenic beaches. When I talk about the spill I invite participants who were there at the time to share their memories. Sometimes their recollections are accompanied by tears as they process events for the first time in years.

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Photo: Mr Karl/Unsplash

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