Environmental News: Oil Spill Consumes Trinidad and Tobago

By News

The oil spill incident in Trinidad and Tobago, which occurred in early February, 2024 particularly affecting Tobago island’s coastline, has spurred a united effort by emergency responders, volunteers, and governmental authorities to contain the spill and lessen its ecological impact.

Critical points include:
1. Detection and Immediate Action: Initially noticed by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard on February 7, roughly 6 kilometres off Studley Park’s coast in Tobago, rapid response measures have been implemented to address the situation promptly.

2. Containment Strategies: Responders have employed barriers to confine the oil spill, with a specific focus on safeguarding the Scarborough port in Tobago, essential for cruise ship operations, particularly during peak periods such as Carnival.

3. Cleaning Endeavours: Active engagement in cleaning up affected Tobago coastal regions involves diverse tasks, including deploying divers, segregating hazardous materials, and evaluating wildlife impact.

4. Vessel Identification: The vessel accountable for the spill, identified as “the Gulfstream,” is currently under investigation regarding ownership and operation details. Reuters identified several similarly named vessels, though their transponders were offline.

5. Limited Wildlife Impact: Initial assessments suggest a restricted impact on local wildlife, providing a positive aspect amid ongoing clean-up operations.

6. Collaboration with Energy Corporations: Collaboration between Trinidad and Tobago’s government and energy corporations, like British BP, has seen the contribution of equipment such as remotely operated vehicles to aid investigative and smooth efforts.

It’s not only this oil spill in particular that was insanely damaging to Trinidad and Tobago – but rather, oil spills as a whole can wreak havoc on our innocent environment. Shockingly, there are over 10,000 oil spills annually all around the globe, with the size of oil spills varying immensely. Even the smallest of incidents (5 gallons worth) can cause our shores to become polluted, grimy, and lead to the collapse and endangerment of marine life, particularly species such as sea otters whose body temperature is determined by the cleanliness of their fur, claims the Oiled Wildlife Care Network from the University of California at Davis. Various shellfish, snails and clams also suffer incredibly… particularly when there are millions of oil barrels flooding about. For example, studies estimate that over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals died as a result of the Exxon Valdez spill, with some populations still recovering to this day.

Moreover, the Office of Response and Restoration states that not only is it insufferable for living organisms generally speaking, but also the severity of the harm to our breathing planet  is determined by the oil variety that has spilled. In short, determining the most harmful type requires careful consideration of their individual properties. Firstly, oils can be categorised as either “light” or “heavy.” Light oils, such as gasoline and diesel, evaporate quickly and typically last only a short time in water. Despite this, they pose immediate dangers due to their flammability and toxicity. Conversely, heavy oils, like bunker oils used in ships, persist in the environment for extended periods if not removed. Although less toxic initially, they can suffocate organisms in the form of a sluggish-release and lead to long-term health issues. Furthermore, heavy oils can cause hypothermia in birds by coating their delicate feathers. Recognising the distinctions between light, heavy, and medium oils is essential for accurately assessing the potential consequences of oil spills and implementing effective response measures.

To add onto this point further, severe attention on the maintenance of oil spillage needs to be given in order to halt the intensity regarding losses to tourism/recreation industries and limit damage to fisheries and other marine-based industries. Efforts to prevent oil spills include:

  •    Strict regulations on oil exploration, production, and transportation
  •    Implementation of safety measures and technology to prevent spills
  •    Development of rapid response capabilities to mitigate the impact of spills when they occur

Trinidad and Tobago is only one of the many destinations where the clean up efforts will now be ongoing.

Further examples of major oil spills historically include:  

  • Exxon Valdez (1989): Approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
  • Prestige (2002): Roughly 20 million gallons of oil spilled off the coast of Spain, causing extensive environmental damage.
  • Deepwater Horizon (2010): The largest marine oil spill in history, with an estimated 210 million gallons of oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil spills such as those aforementioned can have long-lasting effects on affected ecosystems, persisting for years or even decades after the initial incident. Renewal efforts may linger for a decade or longer following a spill:

For instance, in the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the total economic cost, including clean-up, compensation, and lost revenue, exceeded $65 billion, with coastal communities in the Gulf of Mexico experiencing declines in fishing and tourism revenues for years afterwards, while in a similar manner the same Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 contained oil residues which persisted in Gulf of Mexico sediments, posing risks to benthic organisms and disrupting the marine food web for years to come. This should inherently be enough of a scientific breakthrough to highlight that oil sticks like the most adhesive glue – it truly makes an imprint onto our environment. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, studies found that oil residues persisted in Gulf of Mexico sediments, posing risks to benthic organisms and disrupting the marine food web for years to come. Moreover in a similar light, studies have shown that oil residues which persist in soil can impact plant health and biodiversity over the long term. For example, after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, oil residues were still present in some Alaskan marshes more than 25 years later, affecting vegetation and wildlife populations.

These examples are a cry out loud for the complex and enduring consequences of oil spills on ecosystems, emphasising the importance of long-term monitoring, restoration efforts, and proactive measures to mitigate future impacts. If you’re interested in helping the planet and partaking in its sustainability and longevity for future generations, Buckingham Futures has an array of environmentally-facing jobs which touch up on sectors including environmental health, licensing, building surveying, pest control, and civil enforcement. Oil spills can and should be reduced by ordinary people, in proactive ways. Become a part of the solution: https://buckinghamfutures.com/jobs-listing/