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TROUBLED OIL ON WATERS
The oil-slick disaster off Santa Barbara has revived memories of the wreck of the Torrey Canyon two years ago, when 100,000 tons of oil were discharged into the waters off the Cornish coast of England. Drastic efforts were made by the British to get rid of the runaway oil, including the application of vast amounts of detergent.
Today the damaged beaches are clean again—but antiseptically clean. There is no oil around, true, but little evidence of life, either, except for green-brown algae that flourish on the rocks along the shore. The algae are ordinarily controlled by small marine creatures like limpets that live in the littoral between low and high tides, but these were killed off in the disaster and are only just beginning to reappear. It apparently will take years for the old balance of nature to be restored.
The significant thing is that the cure was worse than the disease. That is, the detergents did much more damage to marine life than the oil did (birds, of course, were a different story; they were crippled and strangled by the oil). Although some marine breeding grounds were smothered and commercial fishermen were hurt because their catch began to have an unpleasant taste, marine life in general was not grievously damaged by the oil. Yet it was all but destroyed by the detergents. Along the shore, for example, 75% of the limpets survived on beaches hit by oil, but less than 10% were left on those oily beaches that were cleaned. Limpets and the like normally restrict the green-brown algae to about 28% of the rock surfaces along the Cornish beaches. On beaches that were damaged by oil but not treated with detergents, the algae have increased, but only to about 37%. On oil-damaged beaches that were treated, the algae population exploded and has spread to 86% of the rock area.
A British ecologist said recently, "If there should be another Torrey Canyon-type disaster, we really mustn't plaster detergent everywhere. When it does have to be used the affected areas should be washed down with sea water afterward."
Santa Barbara, please note.
Princeton beat Columbia a short while back in an Ivy League basketball showdown that aroused widespread interest. Late in the first half a phone rang on the press table in the Princeton gym, and a voice asked how the game was going. Told that Princeton had a three-point lead with a man on the foul line and two minutes to go in the half, the caller asked if he could stay on the phone for a personal play-by-play until the intermission.
"Sorry, we can't keep the line tied up like that," he was informed. "Why don't you listen to the game on the radio?"