Oil Spills Working Group
Background and Rationale
Oil spills, which occur as a result of the release of crude oil into the marine environment, are among the most damaging phenomena associated with anthropogenic activities at sea. Oil spills that occur in the ocean and coasts are often caused by accidents involving crude oil tankers, barges, pipelines, drilling rigs and storage wells. They may also occur as a result of the intentional disposal of oil contaminated waste from commercial and recreational vessels. The introduction of crude oil and oil contaminated waste to the marine environment has a plethora of negative effects on ecosystem health and productivity. Exposure to oil leads to a reduction in the insulating ability and water repellency of fur-bearing mammals and sea birds- which may lead to death. Other marine organisms (e.g., fish, sea turtles, whales, shellfish) that inhale or ingest oil may suffer from respiratory ailments, diminished reproductive health, impaired motility, reductions in growth rate and in some cases, death.
In addition to causing harm to marine life, oil spills may also have negative socio-economic impacts on the fisheries and tourism sectors of respective countries. The reduction in quality of marine life as a result of oil spills has devastating effects on the communities which rely on the ecosystem services provided by nearby coastal and marine resources. The persistence of oil in the coastal and marine environment is a significant deterrent to recreational activities in affected areas which may result in the loss of tourism related revenue. Similarly, both commercial and artisanal fisherfolk who depend on fisheries to support their livelihoods suffer financially as a result of the decline in fishery products due to habitat modification, a reduction in ecosystem health and poisoning of fish stocks.
Earth observations play an important role in detecting and monitoring oil spills. This Working Group will work with countries to identify the needs and the gaps in data availability and knowledge sharing on techniques for oil spill detection and monitoring using Earth observations.