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Critical Challenges of Combating Oil Spills at Sea

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in News?

Recently, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) organised a ‘Pollution Response Seminar and Mock Drill’ in Haldia, West Bengal.

How dangerous are oil spills?

  • Oil spills affect marine life by exposing them to harsh elements and destroying their sources of food and habitat.
  • Further, both birds and mammals can die from hypothermia as a result oil spills, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • For instance, oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters.
  • It also decreases the water repellency of birds’ feathers, without which they lose their ability to repel cold water.

How are oil spills cleaned?

There are a few ways to clean up oil spills. including skimming, in situ burning and by releasing chemical dispersants.

  1. Skimming involves removing oil from the sea surface before it is able to reach the sensitive areas along the coastline.
  2. In situ burning means burning a particular patch of oil after it has concentrated in one area.
  3. Releasing chemical dispersants helps break down oil into smaller droplets, making it easier for microbes to consume, and further break it down into less harmful compounds.

Natural actions in aquatic environments such as weathering, evaporation, emulsification, biodegradation and oxidation can also help reduce the severity of an oil spill and accelerate the recovery of an affected area.

More about Oil Pollution of the Oceans

  • Oil pollution of the ocean comes from shipping activity and offshore oil production.
  • Sea-bed activities on oil exploration and production constitute a relatively small part in the general amount of the pollution of marine environment with oil.
  • The principal cause of marine pollution with oil is shipping.
  • Usual shipping operations, especially transportation of oil by tankers and accidents, result in the dumping of around 600 000 – 1 750 000 tons of oil into the ocean per year.
  • It must be stressed here that the oil spills and individual catastrophes are devastating, but the scientific research demonstrates that pollution from other sources damages the marine environment more.
  • Many chemicals carried at sea are intrinsically far more harmful to the marine environment.
  • Although the impact of the oil pollution constitutes only a small part of a general pollution to the maritime environment, the consequences of oil spills and oil wastes are extremely damaging for marine landscape and ocean’s inhabitants.

June 2024