Ecological Effects of a Major Oil Spill on Panamanian Coastal Marine Communities

Science  06 Jan 1989:
Vol. 243, Issue 4887, pp. 37-44
DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4887.37


In 1986 more than 8 million liters of crude oil spilled into a complex region of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs just east of the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. This was the largest recorded spill into coastal habitats in the tropical Americas. Many population of plants and animals in both oiled and unoiled sites had been studied previously, thereby providing an unprecedented measure of ecological variation before the spill. Documenation of the spread of oil and its biological begun immediately. Intertidal mangroves, algae, and associated invertebrates were covered by oil and died soon after. More surprisingly, there was also extensive mortality of shallow subtidal reef corals and infauna of seagrass beds. After 1.5 years only some organisms in areas exposed to the open sea have recovered.