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Refuge Marks Exxon Valdez 20th Anniversary: Food For Thought and Reflection
Date Posted: September 8, 2009Conservation leaders helped Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and the Kodiak community marks the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill from March through August 2009 and provided educational opportunities for visitors from around the world. Twenty years ago the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound, causing the biggest tanker oil spill in U.S. history. Together with conservation leaders from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council and Tim Richardson, of the American Land Conservancy, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge provided thousands of visitors an opportunity to learn about and reflect on the spill.
In the words of Kodiak-based commercial fisherman Al Burch, "The big lesson we learned: do everything you can to prevent oil spills, but they are going to happen again, so be prepared for it." Twenty years after the spill, coastal Alaska has learned the importance of oil spill prevention, response and mitigation-but still seeks emotional closure.
On Saturday, March 21, 2009, the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center hosted a book release and signing for The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, an oral history remembrance of how coastal communities of Alaska were affected by the spill. Produced by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (PWSRCAC) and written by Homer author Sharon Bushell and PWSRCAC Director of External Affairs, Stan Jones, The Spill featured first-person interviews with fishermen, Native leaders, elected officials and tanker captain, Joseph Hazelwood. Bushell and Jones, shared a moving public presentation on this chilly March morning, and welcomed several local contributors to share in reflection and observance of the anniversary. Even though the topic at hand was grim, the event was cathartic, with authors and contributors signing books for supportive family, friends and other community members.
Tim Richardson, Director of Government Affairs for The American Land Conservancy and editor of the book Kodiak Bears and the Exxon Valdez was a featured speaker later that evening and shared more than two decades of experience in habitat restoration after the spill and his ongoing efforts to conserve habitats on Afognak and Kodiak Islands. Richardson highlighted the importance of partnerships during his talk, also a primary theme in his book.
In addition to our March events, the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center hosted a new traveling exhibit that was produced by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) as a compliment to its twenty-year status report, Legacy of an Oil Spill: Twenty Years After the Exxon Valdez and 12-minute documentary, The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Have We Recovered? (135 MB video). The traveling exhibit arrived at the Center in June, at the start of a busy cruise ship season, and provided food for thought for visitors from all over the world. "People were surprised to learn that there were on-going impacts from the spill," recounts Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge interpretive park ranger, Shelly Lawson. Lawson explained further that the exhibit, "sparks communication about the impact on people, their connection to the land and this legal battle that's been on-going for twenty years."
Along with the EVOSTC exhibit and film, Refuge staff engaged visitors with interpretive programs throughout the summer. Doug Stuart, an interpretive park ranger with Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, was a featured guest speaker for several 'Coffee with a Ranger' programs. Stuart shared personal experiences of the spill from two very different angles, first as an oilfield worker at Kuparuk, a satellite oil field of Prudhoe Bay, and later, as a commercial fisherman working on the spill recovery effort out of Homer, Alaska. "I had a lot of information to share from both sides of the fence, it was a real ‘been there, done that' type of thing," explained Stuart when describing his program. When reflecting on the effectiveness of his programs, Stuart said, "It is something that we should not forget and that's why I have been presenting programs about the oil spill for the last nine seasons aboard the Tustumena." Praising the great advances in response, clean-up methods, protective gear for responders and cooperation and planning between responding agencies, Stuart shares a more recent oil recovery story with his Alaska Marine Highway ferry passengers as he highlights the Selendang Ayu spill of December 2004.
Visitor Center Manager, Tina Shaw, estimates that more than 14,000 cruise ship and ferry visitors experienced the EVOSTC exhibit and public talks during its three-month run at the Center and was pleased with the outreach effort, saying that "The Center really became a nexus for so many conservation organizations."