Several disastrous events affected marine life this year including the Kamchatka oil spill, the Mauritius oil spill, and oil pollution left by hurricanes. To clean up oil spills while avoiding more harm to marine wildlife, scientists have been developing eco-friendly ways to remove oil from polluted waters.

Since the late 1970s, experts estimate that over one million gallons of oil have been spilled into oceans. Moreover, cleaning oil spills have been increasingly challenging as oil exploration continued to expand in the past few years.

Another challenge is the use of traditional methods of cleaning up oil spills using dispersants or chemicals that break down the oil’s molecular structure. However, dispersants are toxic to marine organisms, especially seagrass and corals.

Other methods usually focus on surface clean-up as the oil floats on the water. However, methods such as burning the surface oil do not remove it completely.

Oil Spills Killing Marine Life

Moreover, researchers from Greenpeace Russia recently discovered that nearly 95% of marine life near Kamchatka’s shores died due to polluted waters. The marine creatures washed up on the shore are typically found in deeper waters, meaning that toxicants from oil spills have reached deeper waters.

Surfers have also reported that the water has changed color and developed an odor. Their eyes also burned after swimming at the Khalaktyrsky beach.

Vasily Yablokov from Greenpeace said that water pollution in the area had poisoned both people and marine animals. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kamchatka is under threat and “it is necessary to contain and prevent further pollution of the coastline as soon as possible.”

Eco-Friendly Methods

Last year, India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology developed an eco-friendly method to clean up crude oil in oceans using bioremediation. The process involves a combination of nine microbes that degrade hydrocarbons. The organisms were discovered in ocean sediment at a depth of 6,800 feet.

The bacteria was observed to remove more than 80% of the oils within 10 days, compared to years of cleaning disastrous oil spills and full recovering of polluted waters. Adding nitrogen and phosphorus to the bacteria added the authors, enhanced their hydrocarbon utilization.

Bristol University’s researchers have developed an eco-friendly magnetic soap. The soap easily dissolves in the water and contains iron-rich salts which act as a magnetic surfactant.

“We are confident this sponge could help save the fauna and flora on Mauritius’s shores,” said Professor Vinayak Dravid.”Its biggest advantage is how the sponge can be made into balls to be left in an oil-laden sand or soil pit. The oil will get absorbed in days, and the sponge can be reused.”

As long as humans continue to use fossil fuels, Dravid said, there will continue to be oil spills. Their team has been developing technology that can clean oil spills more efficiently as well as safe for the environment.

The article is originally published at : sciencetimes