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Australian Marine and Coastal Environments Face Threats from Oil Spills

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Scuba Diving With Fishes And Coral ReefsOil and other commercial spills are a constant threat to Australian marine wildlife, workers and local homeowners. Approximately 5,000 tonnes of oil spills were reported from 2001 to 2012 alone.

In April 2010, Chinese coal carrier ShenNeng 1 collided with the Douglas Shoal of the Great Barrier Reef. The ship leaked up to four tonnes of fuel oil into the ocean, damaging around three kilometres of the Reef.

A more recent incident happened in 2015, when a freight train derailed in Queensland, spilling sulphuric acid and severely contaminating surrounding bodies of water.

Measures like shoreline flushing, booms, vacuums, sorbents and bioremediation agents are some of the more common methods for onshore oil spill response. Many companies use high-grade spill control kits, which include large marine booms, pads and granular absorbents.

With increased access to oil spill response methods, commercial and residential property owners can better arrest the dire effects of spillages.

Effects of Marine Oil Spills

Oil spills on marine and coastal environments can have both short or long-term impacts. Spills can lead to immediate physical damage and loss of foreshore and marine habitats, as well as a long-term negative impact on the health, diversity and viability of coastal eco-systems.

The contamination of coastal infrastructure also affects tourism and other recreational activities, resulting in economic losses at both the regional and national level.

The Cleanup Process: A Messy Business

No two oil spills are alike, but one thing they all have in common is a messy cleanup. If a ship sinks or an oil pipeline breaks, the goal is to contain the oil source by preventing more oil from leaking, and by stopping already spilt oil from spreading.

However, ocean currents and weather conditions may overwhelm booms and other offshore cleanup methods. This is why oil escapes to shorelines from the initial spill and wreaks havoc.

Take note that all response options have potential trade-offs. This means considering the impact of the cleanup strategies and examining their nuances. An assessment of the oil spill would require information on the specific oil type, shoreline habitats, local environmental conditions, shore access and other logistical and safety considerations. These factors determine the most suitable cleanup method and avoid making a bad situation even worse.