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Fifty years after the wreck of the Torrey Canyon

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The Marine Biological Association

Citadel Hill

PL1 2PB

United Kingdom

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Join us at the MBA for a one off special lecture for the 50th Anniversary of the Torrey Canyon oil spill.

This free talk will be focused on the history of the oil spill and the long-term rocky shore research surrounding one of the largest oil spills in Europe.

Image copyright Mariners' Museum




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From the Torrey Canyon to Today:

A 50 year retrospective of the recovery from the oil spill and interaction with climate-driven fluctuations on Cornish rocky shores.

Prof Stephen J. Hawkins, Eve C. Southward, Ally J. Evans, Kathryn E. Pack, John A. J. Readman, Leoni C. Adams and Nova Mieszkowska.


The Torrey Canyon oil spill in 1967 occurred near to a centre of scientific excellence – The Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA). This talk is from the perspective of the MBA, all of whose staff were mobilised to deal with the spill for six weeks. MBA staff, Alan and Eve Southward, were subsequently involved in long-term studies of recovery of rocky shores for the next ten years, then continued to date by Steve Hawkins and colleagues at one of the worst affected shores – Porthleven.

Many of the rocky shores affected by the spill had been studied by A. J. and E. C. Southward from the early 1950s. Thus, a baseline existed to judge recovery of rocky shores from oil and the excessive application of toxic first generation dispersants. Using original photographs taken at the time, a reminder is given of the first ten years of observations on recovery of shore communities (described by Southward and Southward in the late 1970s). Subsequent follow-up work suggests recovery took up to 15 years on the shore subject to the most severe dispersant application (Porthleven). In contrast, recovery occurred in 2-3 years at a site where dispersants were not applied due to concerns about the impact on seals (Godrevy).

The dispersants killed the dominant grazer, limpets, leading to unnatural fluctuations in limpet and algae populations. At Porthleven sustained observations over five decades (1967-2016) revealed when return to the typical range of spatial and temporal variation on rocky shores occurred. Lessons learnt from observations stretching back 60 years for rocky shore monitoring are highlighted – especially the need for broad-scale and long-term monitoring to separate out local impacts (such as oil spills) from global climate-driven change.




This is a free event and light refreshments will be provided

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The Marine Biological Association

Citadel Hill

PL1 2PB

United Kingdom

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