Oil pollution can damage ecosystems,
including those of plants and animals, as well as contaminate drinking water.
Furthermore, human health and human activity can be hampered due to the
economic losses associated with a spill. While some spills are neither
documented nor fully understood, the impacts of oil spills can stay for decades
after the spill occurs 13.
Oil spills affect animal species
significantly because they damage the animals’ homes which animals need to live
and reproduce 4. When oil is released into water, it prevents animals from
moving or flying 4. As a result, some non-amphibious animals may die from cold water because of the temperature
reduction in their bodies. Also, when animals try to clean themselves after being
exposed to an oil spill, they can absorb a significant amount of oil which
causes suffocation or death, especially for fish and birds species 4. Moreover, oil spills can harm microorganisms that live
in soils, which can negatively impact vegetation and food products 4.
During the Gulf War, 80% of the sun’s rays
were scattered and the sky was filled with black clouds, resulting a drop in
the temperature of the air and water 4. As a result, many wildlife and seabirds’ species were
affected significantly. Between 22 and 50% of cormorants and grebes, and
100,000 waders were killed due to the oil spills. In addition, approximately 50
dugongs and many dolphins and turtles were found dead on the beach of Saudi
Arabia after the spill 4, 14.
Oil pollution also has a direct impact on
economy. According to United States Environmental Protection Agency, billions
of dollars were spent to clean the polluted area in Alaska after the Exxon
Valdez oil spill 10. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spills, the affected
states were given $15 million each beside the extra money for tourism and
leisure businesses 11. According to the
Gulf Cooperation Council in the Middle East countries, it cost an estimated $540
million to clean the Saudi coast after the oil spills in the Arabian Gulf. This
was only an initial cost for cleaning and does not include the rehabilitation
of the contaminated area nor the reconstruction of the touristic facilities 15.
Human health can be affected by oil spills
via direct and indirect exposures. Direct exposure includes inhalation and physical
contact with oil products, such as phenols and volatile benzene, or exposure to
massive amounts of chemical dispersants during cleanup 16. The indirect exposure includes
consuming contaminated seafood or swimming in contaminated areas 16. People exposed to oil spills suffer
from headache, diarrhea, dizziness and respiratory problems, and a high
exposure dosage can lead to cancer and/or mortality 16-17.
700 km of the coast between Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia was effected after the oil spills in the Arabian Gulf (Figure
1)12. Oil showed its worst effects when
it reached the coastline. Due to coastal contact, large numbers of marine
organisms were killed, while beaches, fishing grounds, farms, and lands were
totally destroyed. Furthermore, there was a significant economic loss due to
the damage inflicted on the marine food industry. Edible marine products such
as fish, oysters, shrimps, and crabs were polluted 15-16. The consequences of the oil spill
exceeded the hampering of the ecosystem itself. The impact of such
environmental disasters on the regional economy and the human way of life
cannot be understated.