Human support for nature

Faced with the considerable time periods needed for the most sensitive areas to regain their balance, humans began to wonder whether they could help speed up nature, by conducting repopulation operations, in the same way as replanting trees after forest fires, or, more simply, by facilitating natural growth of shoreline vegetation and recolonisation of the foreshore by animals, through protective measures.

Today, facilitation of growth by protective measures is a common practice for sites which have been trampled by shoreline clean-up operators or degraded by vehicles or temporary storage. The simple measure of protecting these sites using barriers, stopping people and vehicles passing, is often enough to encourage recolonisation.

Botanical restoration

Natural recolonisation: situation in December 1999...

... and in summer 2003


Actual repopulation on the foreshore and at sea poses further problems. Technical knowledge of repopulation and the reintroduction of marine species remains far behind this knowledge on land environments. What we do know is restricted to a small number of species, which are only a minor part of natural populations and are often high in the food chain (predators), when repopulation operations should logically start with plants and animals low in the food chain (herbivorous).

As a consequence, apart from a few exceptions, reseeding techniques for marine life are today either non-existent or embryonic. There are therefore few recommendable operational solutions. Those which do exist concern a small number of species in specific environments.

Techniques exist for reconstructing coral reefs, generally used to repair damage caused by vessels grounding, which can be adapted to the context of oil pollution. There are also propagation techniques for submarine plants (sea grass in the Mediterranean environment) and marsh plants (mangrove trees in swamps) by taking cuttings, which have undergone trial testing and could be widely applied to future accidents. There is no doubt that other propositions will surface in the future.

All these techniques put together will, in the long run, open up a new part of oil spill response: human assistance in the repair of environmental damages, once clean-up operations have been completed.

Restoration goes in line with strengthened preventative measures to ensure against restoration efforts being set back halfway through by another spill.

Environmental restoration

Approaches to repairing environmental damages varies from country to country. Some countries, such as Italy, have legislation on environmental damages while others, such as France, do not. In the US, compensation for damages to natural resources can add significantly to the total spill clean-up costs. Other countries focus on replacement processes, which consists of financing the protection of a natural site to compensate for an equivalent degraded site elsewhere. The pros and cons of the different approaches to compensating environmental damages will not be explored here.

Member States of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds) can obtain reimbursement for environmental impact studies and, where possible, environmental restoration using established techniques and implemented at a reasonable cost, with respect to the extent of the pollution and the damages caused.