The world’s oceans have taken a beating in the past couple of weeks. Off the coast of Lebanon, an estimated 15,000 tons of oil spilled from an Israeli-struck storage facility is being described as “the biggest environmental catastrophe in Lebanon’s history” and a “threat to biodiversity” in the Mediterranean Sea. Clean-up was impossible until Tuesday, for obvious security reasons.
In the Indian Ocean, a Japanese tanker collided with another vessel Monday leaking 4500 tons, or 1.5 million gallons, of crude oil. It might be the biggest spill ever for a Japanese tanker (but it’s only a fraction of what the Exxon Valdez spilled—11 million gallons—in 1998).
On a smaller scale, a tanker spilled 50 tons of fuel into the Howe Sound of British Columbia after striking two pilings as it was towed to sea on August 4. That weekend, emergency response crews and the Vancouver-based company Barrad Clean reportedly clean up two-thirds of the spill at an expense of $100,000. The remaining third will undoubtedly take weeks—or months—to contain, and much more money.
As far as ecological costs, In the Mediterranean, the oil will affect tuna, whose eggs float on the water’s surface, and compromise newly-hatched green turtle as they burrow out of Lebanon’s beaches and race for sea. On the other side of the world, migrating birds will be jeopardized when they stop at the Howe Sound to visit tidal flats and the Squamish Estuary. Some, especially those already covered with oil, will have to be captured, treated, and cleaned, when they become sick.
The region has seen other devastating spills in recent years, including a 2004 oil spill in Puget Sound. One of the perverse effects of the way we measure the economy is that such disasters show up as a plus in the GDP figures, because of the huge sums spent on clean-up, but the ecological losses suffered are off the books.