How does an oil spill affect the environment?

Oil spills caused by damaged tankers, pipelines, or offshore oil rigs often result in immediate and long-term environmental damage that can last for decades. 

When an oil slick from a large spill reaches a beach, oil coats and clings to every rock and grain of sand. If the oil washes into coastal marshes, mangrove forests, or other wetlands, fibrous plants and grasses absorb oil, which can damage plants and make the area unsuitable as wildlife habitat.

Oil-covered birds are a universal symbol of environmental damage wreaked by oil spills. Even a small amount of oil can be deadly to a bird. By coating feathers, oil not only makes flying impossible but also destroys birds’ natural waterproofing and insulation, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia or overheating. 

Oil spills frequently kill marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea otters.  According to Earther, the recent Mauritius oil spill has left 39 dolphins and 3 whales dead, and other sick and injured dolphins and whales have been turning up as well, too.

Long-term damage to species and their habitats and nesting or breeding grounds is one of the most far-reaching environmental effects caused by oil spills.