What is the Impact of Different Classes of Oil Spills on Marine Life?

Workers struggling to clean up an oil spillOil spills are potentially devastating to the environment. They have different classifications, however, so how much it affects marine life depends on the size of the spill.

The Three Classes of Marine Oil Spills

Oil spills in the marine environment are not always the same. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority classifies them into three broad classes.

First are small oil spills which are often a result of accidents, equipment failure and improper work practices. These spills are generally a minor discharge of oily water mixtures.

Second are large scale oil spills which are often a result of collisions, groundings, fires, and other major shipping incidents. These spills may also be a result of damage to oil tankers, drilling rigs, and undersea pipelines.

Third is the dishonourable discharge, which is intentional—and essentially criminal—dumping of waste oil and oily waters into the water.

Given these classes, a marine spill kit that could address one type of spill may not necessarily work for another.

The Direct Effects of Oil Spills on Marine Life

Oil spills directly affect marine life because of the toxicity and physical properties of the substance. The severity of the damage depends on the type of oil, though.

Light oils such as gasoline and diesel fuel evaporate quickly compared to other types of oil. So even if it spreads out on the water, it will naturally evaporate within a few days. Nevertheless, do not leave light oil spills alone because the substance is still toxic. It could be deadly to marine animals and plants that come in contact with it.

On the other hand, heavy oils such as bunker oils refer to the black substance that stays on the surface. Unlike light oils, they may harden with time.

You shouldn’t wait to clean up heavy oil as it could wreak havoc to local industries and wildlife.

Generally speaking, oil spills affect marine life in two ways—through the actual substance or the clean up process. For this reason, it is always important to apply ethical work practices and invest in a quality spill kit to minimise the impacts of oil on the environment and upon the people within the area.