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Over two million tonnes of oil are estimated to enter the world's oceans every year. A small percentage, but still a large volume, of this oil strands onshore, where its persistence is governed primarily by the action of physical forces. In some cases, biota influence the persistence of stranded oil or the rate of its weathering. Oil's deleterious effects on biota are frequently related to the persistence and degree of weathering of the oil, with long-lasting effects in low-energy environments such as salt marshes and coastal mangroves, or in higher-energy environments where oil is sequestered. However, an oil spill can have disproportionately large biological effects when it affects key species or processes (e.g., structurally important species, predators, prey, recruitment, or succession). In these cases, the continuing presence of oil is not always a prerequisite for continuing biological effects. There are relatively few long-term studies of the effects of oil spills; data from these suggest that oil can persist for decades in some environments or situations, and that biological effects can be equally persistent. Broad-based, integrated studies have been the most revealing in terms of the importance of direct and indirect effects, spillover effects between different parts of the environment, and continuing linkages between residual oil and biologic effects. Clean-up and treatment techniques applied to spilled or stranded oil can also have significant, long-lasting effects and need to be carefully evaluated prior to use.
Additional Publication Details
Persistence of spilled oil on shores and its effects on biota
Seas at the millennium - an environmental evaluation