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Silent Spring On “Refinery Beach” With AM-Tanker Spill Bjt

April 4, 1989

KNIGHT ISLAND, Alaska (AP) _ Dan Lawn finds it hard to stay calm when he slips and slides along a rocky beach, pointing at animals dead and dying in a layer of crude oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez.

He pointed to the skeleton of a recently dead otter on the beach, its bones picked clean.

″Here’s an example of why we have to get dead animals and birds out of here,″ Lawn said. ″The eagles eat them. They ingest the oil in the fur, and they will eventually die, too.″

Acrid fumes from the black crude filled nostrils and watered eyes as Lawn, district chief of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and his party of two jumped from a helicopter. Oil, so black it seemed to suck light, smothered the mossy rocks, an inch thick in places.

″Welcome to refinery beach,″ said state official Richard Fineberg.

The North Slope Crude, once bound for West coast refineries, went on for miles, up and down the east shoreline of this once lush and wild island. It’s a tiny stretch of an estimated 800 miles of shoreline hit with oil after the tanker hit a reef near Valdez to the northeast.

″Look there,″ said Lawn, pointing just off-shore at something splashing feebly. ″That’s an otter. He’s just out there in black oil. Oil’s just black. That otter will die soon.″

Fineberg worried about the brown and black bears in the spruce-covered mountains rearing from the beach. How will they fish or find other food when they leave their winter dens?

They will die, Lawn said.

″That spash. That’s a seal,″ he said, pointing just offshore at the velvety blanket of oil undulating on the water. ″That seal is going to die,″ Lawn said. ″That thing floating next to it is already dead. It’s probably an otter.″

Down the beach, Lawn spotted something else snorting and diving. ″That sea lion is swimming in black oil. There’s no clean water out there for him to swim in. That sea lion, in a few days, will be dead,″ he said.

″There’s no clean water. Where’s he going to go?″

Up ahead, gulls, some partly oiled, sat on tall black rocks. ″They’re trying to stay out of the water,″ Lawn said. They don’t have to dive for a living like some ducks and seabirds.

Lawn gets very mad when he thinks about people who fly over the island and think the devastation is not severe because they can’t see the dead, oil- covered animals.

″The problem is you can’t see them,″ Lawn said. ″They’re so damn black that unless they move you just can’t see them. You almost step on them. They crawl into little crevasses to get away from this terrible thing, whatever it is. They don’t know what this stuff is.″

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