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 theeconomic losses associated with a spill. While some spills are neitherdocumented nor fully understood, the impacts of oil spills can stay for decadesafter the spill occurs 13.Oil spills affect animal speciessignificantly because they damage the animals’ homes which animals need to liveand reproduce 4.
When oil is released into water, it prevents animals frommoving or flying 4. As a result, some non-amphibious animals may die from cold water because of the temperaturereduction in their bodies. Also, when animals try to clean themselves after beingexposed to an oil spill, they can absorb a significant amount of oil whichcauses suffocation or death, especially for fish and birds species 4. Moreover, oil spills can harm microorganisms that livein soils, which can negatively impact vegetation and food products 4.
During the Gulf War, 80% of the sun’s rayswere scattered and the sky was filled with black clouds, resulting a drop inthe temperature of the air and water 4. As a result, many wildlife and seabirds’ species wereaffected significantly. Between 22 and 50% of cormorants and grebes, and100,000 waders were killed due to the oil spills. In addition, approximately 50dugongs and many dolphins and turtles were found dead on the beach of SaudiArabia after the spill 4, 14.
Oil pollution also has a direct impact oneconomy. According to United States Environmental Protection Agency, billionsof dollars were spent to clean the polluted area in Alaska after the ExxonValdez oil spill 10. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spills, the affectedstates were given $15 million each beside the extra money for tourism andleisure businesses 11. According to theGulf Cooperation Council in the Middle East countries, it cost an estimated $540million to clean the Saudi coast after the oil spills in the Arabian Gulf. Thiswas only an initial cost for cleaning and does not include the rehabilitationof the contaminated area nor the reconstruction of the touristic facilities 15.Human health can be affected by oil spillsvia direct and indirect exposures. Direct exposure includes inhalation and physicalcontact with oil products, such as phenols and volatile benzene, or exposure tomassive amounts of chemical dispersants during cleanup 16. The indirect exposure includesconsuming contaminated seafood or swimming in contaminated areas 16.
People exposed to oil spills sufferfrom headache, diarrhea, dizziness and respiratory problems, and a highexposure dosage can lead to cancer and/or mortality 16-17.700 km of the coast between Kuwaitand Saudi Arabia was effected after the oil spills in the Arabian Gulf (Figure1)12. Oil showed its worst effects whenit reached the coastline. Due to coastal contact, large numbers of marineorganisms were killed, while beaches, fishing grounds, farms, and lands weretotally destroyed. Furthermore, there was a significant economic loss due tothe damage inflicted on the marine food industry. Edible marine products suchas fish, oysters, shrimps, and crabs were polluted 15-16. The consequences of the oil spillexceeded the hampering of the ecosystem itself.
The impact of suchenvironmental disasters on the regional economy and the human way of lifecannot be understated.