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Research Technical Report

Damage and Recovery in Intertidal Fucus gardneri Assemblages Following the 'Exxon Valdez' Oil Spill

DeVogelaere, A.P., and M.S. Foster (1994)

Marine Ecology Progress Seriees 106:263-271


In March 1989, the 'Exxon Valdez' spilled over 10 million gallons (ca 38 million l) of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA. The spill was followed by massive clean-up using hot sea-water at high pressure as well as other mechanical and chemical techniques. We studied initial damage and subsequent recovery in the upper margin of the Fucus gardneri assemblage on protected shores by comparing sites that were unoiled, oiled and cleaned with hot water at high pressure, and oiled but less intensely cleaned. F. gardneri cover averaged 80% on unoiled sites but lt 1% on all oiled and cleaned sites 18 mo after the spill. The abundances of barnacles, littorine snails and limpets varied among sites and species, and this variation was associated in part with differences in their life histories. F. gardneri cover was still extremely low on oiled and cleaned sites 2.5 yr after the spill. Holdfasts that persisted after cleaning did not resprout. F. gardneri recruitment was lowest at intensely cleaned sites, and most recruits occurred in cracks near adults. Recruits were less abundant under canopies but placing canopies over recruits did not decrease their survivorship over 5 mo. Natural weathering of tar was rapid, with most marked patches gone in less than 1 yr. We conclude that intense mechanical cleaning following this oil spill increased damage and slowed recovery. Such methods should be avoided if reduction of environmental damage is the primary objective of post-spill management decisions. The recovery of F. gardneri at its upper margin might be enhanced by devices that retain moisture and increase substratum rugosity.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
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