Sensitivity of ecosystems

When an oil spill reaches the shoreline, or occurs very near the coast, the phenomena of soiling and coating in oil can have an impact on the populations in the intertidal zone and the various human activities which take place by the sea. Marine birds and mammals are also obvious victims, such as numerous species of birds feeding on the foreshore at low tide and nesting on the seafront, or marine mammals resting on the shore. However, the algae, fish and shellfish which live in coastal pools, on the rocks and in the sand or mud, are inevitably affected.

Depending on the type of shoreline, the impact can range from being relatively limited to, at the other end of the spectrum, extremely dramatic. The sensitivity of different substrates to oil varies considerably, from rocky coasts to pebble beaches, gravel, course-grain sand, fine-grain sand, marshland, coral reefs, and so on.

Epithelial tissue from the gills of a control fish (left) and an intoxicated fish (right). The intoxicated tissue shows a reduction in the thickness of the gill epithelium and the destruction of certain cells.


Rocky coast polluted by oil

Aerial view of a polluted rocky coast