It was Good Friday on March 24, 1989, when 11 million gallons of crude spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound from an Exxon Valdez tanker. After colliding with a reef, the tanker seeped thick, toxic sludge into the water, where waves and currents globbed it over 1,300 miles of shoreline.
It has been 25 years since that tragedy, and though the oil has largely disappeared from immediate sight, effects from Exxon Valdez linger. The government is still fighting in court for more compensation from the company that scarred a coastal ecosystem. Beaches are still drenched in subsurface oil, and mussels still hold traces of it in their shells. An industry — fishing — has still not recovered. Lives lost, human and animal alike, have not been returned.
Here are some of the most powerful images from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the events that followed.
When the Exxon Valdez ship ran aground, it spilled more than 270,000 barrels of crude oil. Jurors decided that insurers should pay Exxon $250 million to compensate the oil company for money it spent to clean up after the accident. Exxon itself was ordered to pay $507.5 million in punitive damages including court costs, brought down from an initial $5 billion order.
Images of oil-slicked birds and otters have become cliched when it comes to oil spills, but Exxon Valdez’s effect on marine life was unprecedented. An estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters and 300 harbor seals were killed in the immediate aftermath, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was not until this year that the U.S. Geological Survey officially announced that sea otter populations had recovered from the spill.
The Exxon Valdez spill effected everyone a little differently. Some cleaned up, some protested, and some had their lives changed forever.