Exxon Valdez spill scientists to gather in Anchorage

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- More than three dozen scientists studying the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill are meeting in Anchorage this week.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council is sponsoring the workshop, which opens Tuesday at the Egan Civic and Convention Center.

In addition to lingering damage from the spill, the scientists will discuss a long-term monitoring program, designed to track changes in the ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska. The monitoring program will cost $6 million annually and will begin in October.

''The council is very focused on oil spill injury. But looking to the future, they see the (Gulf monitoring) program as their last legacy,'' said Molly McCammon, executive director of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council ''It's basically trying to understand what is driving productivity in the marine environment.''

Under the program, still under review by the National Research Council, a team of scientists will scrutinize oceanography, climate and marine life throughout the Gulf, looking for changes or problems, McCammon said.

Over the next four days, more than three dozen scientists will participate in nearly 50 discussions, many focused on how scientists can make connections between the Sound and surrounding ecosystems on shore and at sea.

For example, spill scientists will meet with scientists from the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund to talk about how they can work together to coordinate research. Other presentations will look into how the Gulf marine system influences watersheds and near-shore habitats.

Since 1999, the council has listed eight species as not recovering at all and four species whose recovery is unknown. Only bald eagles and river otters have been listed as restored.

The trustee council's chief scientist, Robert Spies, will present recent findings from the restoration program and other researchers will discuss the status of fisheries, marine mammals, birds, sea otters and harlequin ducks.

Among them will be federal chemist Jeff Short, who supervised the most comprehensive survey of the oiled beaches ever attempted. After digging about 8,000 pits at randomly selected locations last summer, the team found far more oil than anyone expected, McCammon said.

''That's not to say that it's a huge amount, but it's more than anticipated,'' she said. ''It's still fresh, and it's still toxic.''

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