The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.
The graph below shows how many millions of gallons of oil each source puts into the oceans worldwide each year
Road runoff adds up
Every year oily road runoff from a city of 5 million could contain as much oil as one large tanker spill §.
Large spills--even though a relatively minor source of ocean oil pollution--can be devastating. The same amount of oil can do more damage in some areas than others. Coral reefs and mangroves are more sensitive to oil than sandy beaches or sea-grass beds; intertidal zones are the most sensitive. Crude oil is most likely to cause problems §.
Dead oiled otter
a victim of the Exxon Valdez spill Prince William Sound, 1989
Oil-covered fur or feathers can't insulate marine mammals and diving birds
from cold water, and when an animal cleans itself, it also swallows oil.
photo © Gary Braasch/Wheeler Pictures, Woodfin Camp & Associates
NOAA scientist collects samples from a rock sole after an oil spill, 1989
Even if oil exposure isn't immediately lethal, it can cause long-term harm.
Bottom-dwelling fish exposed to compounds released after oil spills may develop
liver disease and reproductive and growth problems.
photo Northwest Fisheries Science Center/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mangroves stand in oil from a ruptured refinery tank, Panama, 1986
Smithsonian Institution scientists monitored effects of this 1986 spill,
one of the largest in tropical North America. Five years later, mangrove
sediments still held fairly fresh, toxic oil. It may take the mangroves fifty
years to recover fully.
photo © Carl C. Hansen
International cooperation has greatly reduced accidental and operational oil discharges from tankers. MARPOL (for MARine POLlution) is shorthand for a United Nations treaty (the Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) that became effective in 1983. MARPOL is largely credited for reducing oil pollution from shipping by about 60 percent worldwide during the 1980s §.
Workers install a machine for cleaning waste oil off the sides of the ship's cargo tanks MARPOL requires installation and use of oil-pollution prevention equipment on tankers and other ships, and prohibits discharges within certain distances of land §.
photo © International Maritime Organization
More do-it-yourselfers are doing it right
More than half of all Americans change their own oil, but only about one-third of the used oil from do-it-yourself oil changes is collected and recycled. § Government and industry-sponsored oil collection and recycling programs in many communities are increasing awareness of the hazards of dumping used oil and the benefits of reusing it. §
Thousands of collection centers and service stations are accepting used oil for recycling. To find out about recycling oil in your area, contact your state environmental department or local recycling authority.
Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan
gene carl feldman (firstname.lastname@example.org) (301) 286-9428