Sixteen Years After Exxon Valdez Spill, Oil Continues to Kill Thousands of Seabirds Each Year

Thursday, 24 March, 2005
Yarmouth Port, MA
Sixteen years after the devastating Exxon Valdez spill, the deliberate and illegal discharge of oil from ships kills thousands of seabirds each year, according to IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare  -- ) . More seabirds are killed each year from illegal dumping than the total number killed in the Exxon Valdez spill.
Recently, after an accidental spill from an offshore rig near St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, it was discovered that passing ships had taken advantage of the pollution to dump oil into the sea. When hundreds of dead seabirds began washing up on shore, tests of the oil on the birds determined that it came from nine different sources other than the original oil rig spill.

"In busy Canadian shipping lanes off the coast of Newfoundland and other environmentally sensitive areas, it is estimated that more than 300,000 seabirds are killed each year due to deliberate oil dumping," says Kim Elmslie, campaign Coordinator in IFAW Canada.

In Canada, IFAW is working with other NGOs and lawmakers to encourage the passing of a bill, known as C-15, that increases penalties for companies that illegally dump waste oil at sea.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, caused when the tanker ran aground off Prince William Sound, was responsible for one of the world's biggest environmental disasters. The ensuing oil spill killed 250,000 seabirds and thousands of other marine creatures, including sea otters, whales and seals.

At the time IFAW's Emergency Relief team were involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of hundreds of seabirds oiled in the spill, and in the past six months alone IFAW and its partner the International Bird Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (IBRRC) have been called on to rescue seabirds oiled in spills in Mexico and Brazil.

In South Africa in 2000, IFAW helped rescue and successfully release 18,000 endangered African penguins oiled in the MV Treasure oil spill.

"Our oceans are awash with heavy shipping traffic which often illegally discharge waste oil at sea damaging marine and coastal resources," said Helen Dagut, Campaigns Manager for IFAW Southern Africa.

In Southern Africa, IFAW is supporting a number of initiatives aimed at heightening protection of South Africa's valuable marine resources from threats including oil. A proposal for the designation of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area and Special Area off South Africa's coast, to tighten limits set on discharge of oil, is being driven by IFAW for acceptance by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). IFAW Southern Africa is also lobbying for the ratification of a number of international law instruments to ensure comprehensive international law protection for South Africa's marine resources.

A study of major shipping areas in North Atlantic waters is being developed to determine the extent of deliberate oil dumping, its effects on seabirds and to encourage Europe and Canada to increase monitoring and enforcement, and impose harsher penalties for polluters.

"We have to pursue every avenue to prevent accidental oil spills and chronic oiling from occurring," says Fred O'Regan, IFAW president and CEO.

"If we have learned anything in the 16 years that have passed since the Exxon Valdez disaster it is that prevention and preparedness are of paramount concern for the shipping industry and governments should ensure that deliberate dumping of oil cannot be tolerated."

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