On March 24, 1989 the
Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
It was the worst oil spill in US history until 2010, when
Deepwater Horizon disaster pumped nearly 20 times that into the Gulf of Mexico.
Thirty years later, the pictures of the aftermath and cleanup efforts in Alaska remain iconic images for environmental activists, starkly depicting the blunt force of industry running headfirst into a delicately balanced natural setting.
The Exxon Baton Rouge, the smaller ship visible here, attempts to off load crude from the Exxon Valdez on the Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 26, 1989. An oil-skimming operation works in a heavy slick near Latouche Island in the southwest end Prince William Sound on April 1, 1989. An oil-covered bird is examined on an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska in April 1989. An oil-containment boom was used to protect an inlet on Knights Island on March 30, 1989, Crews use high-pressure hoses to blast the rocks on Naked Island, Alaska on April 21, 1989. A cleanup worker washes crude off the rocky shore of Block Island on April 17, 1989. A local fisherman inspects a dead California gray whale on the northern shore of Latoucha Island, Alaska on April 9, 1989. Preparing to vacuum up crude on the shoreline of Block Island, in Prince William Sound, Alaska on April 17, 1989. Thick crude that washed up on the beach at Evans Island sticks to the boots and pants of a fisherman in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on April 11, 1989. The Exxon Baton Rouge attempts to off load crude from the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 26, 1989. This Red Necked Greb is covered in oil after the Exxon Valdez spill, seen on March 30, 1989. A sea otter, nicknamed “Belle” by mammal rescue center volunteers, peers over towels while being dried in Valdez, after being cleaned of oil on March 31, 1989. Sea otters killed by the spill are placed in bags on Green Island. Cleanup workers spray water on the beach of Block Island, in Prince William Sound, Alaska on April 17, 1989 Crews clean the oil-soaked beach on Naked Island in the Prince William Sound, on April 2, 1989. A cleanup worker scrubs oil-soaked rocks on Naked Island in the Prince William Sound, April 2 1989. A worker makes his way across the polluted shore of Block Island, Alaska, on April 17, 1989. A diamond of containment boom protects the holding pens at Tutka Lagoon fish hatchery in Homer, Alaska on April 17, 1989. Listening to Exxon officials speak in Cordova, Alaska on March 29, 1989. Facing the loss of an anticipated $12-million herring harvest, Cordova District Fisherman United president Jerry McCune suffers through a meeting of local fisherman on April 10, 1989, in Cordova, Alaska. Bill Scheer, of Valdez, Alaska, is covered in crude oil while working on a beach affected by the spill on April 13, 1989. Animal rescue workers make their way along the shoreline on the beach of Johnson Bay at William Island Sound, Alaska on April 15, 1989. About 25 fishing boats circled off shore from the Alyeska Pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska on Sept. 9, 1989 protesting the use of foreign tankers to transport oil from Valdez, the methods used in cleaning oiled beaches in Prince William Sound and the oil industry’s failure to address safety problems which the fishermen believed caused the Exxon Valdez oil spill. US senator Ted Stevens is greeted by residents unhappy with the progress of the cleanup on April 22, 1989, in Homer, Alaska. Demonstrators from Kodiak carry signs to protest the Exxon oil spill in Anchorage, Alaska on May 27, 1989.