Today is the 20th anniversary of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, but the federal and state governments have yet to collect millions of dollars that the oil company agreed to pay.
The Exxon Valdez spill was one of the most worst environmental disasters in history. The spill covered over 10,000 square miles of Alaska coastline. Oil spread along 1,300 miles of shoreline, fouling a national forest, two national parks, two national wildlife refuges, five state parks, four state critical habitat areas, one state game sanctuary, and many ancestral lands for Alaska natives.
The federal and state governments have demanded that Exxon fund restoration projects, estimated at $92 million, based on the continued presence of oil in the habitats of Prince William Sound and Gulf of Alaska beaches.
The most important species that is still experiencing significant problems is Pacific herring, an ecologically and commercially important species in Prince William Sound. They are central to the marine food web, providing food to marine mammals, birds, invertebrates, and other fish. Herring are also commercially fished for food, bait, sac-roe, and spawn on kelp.
Due to the decreased population, the Status Report states, the herring fishery in Prince William Sound has been closed for 13 of the 19 years since the spill and remains closed today.
In his introduction to the Status Report, Alaska Deputy Attorney General Craig Tillery writes, "Over the last 20 years, we have made significant progress in restoration of areas impacted by the spill: permanently protecting crucial habitat; increasing our knowledge of the marine ecosystem; and developing new tools for better management of these vital resources. Visitors to Prince William Sound and the North Gulf Coast of Alaska today again experience spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife and see little evidence of the spill.
Yet the area has not fully recovered. In some areas, ExxonValdez oil still remains and is toxic. Some injured species have yet to recover to pre-spill levels. This long-term damage was not expected at the time of the spill and was only just starting to be recognized in 1999, at the 10th Anniversary. At that time, the majority of species injured by the spill were still struggling with low numbers, such as the depressed herring populations, but it was expected that the ecosystem would recover naturally over time . Now, in 2009, as we reach the end of the second decade, many of these areas and species of concern remain. As we learn more, the picture of recovery is more complicated than was first appreciated."