Black Wave: A communities Impact

On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on the Bligh reef in Prince Edward Sound, Alaska. The environmental milieu of this area was significantly damaged, affecting wildlife, sea life, coastline, and members of the community. It is reported as the worst environmental disaster in United States history. (ARLIS, 2010) What was known of this tragedy twenty years ago has continued to be researched by biologists and environmentalists, to monitor and record the impact that this tragedy left in this small community.

The story unfolds in the early morning hours on March 24, 1989 in a small community located in Alaska, named Cordova. Riki Ott a marine biologist with a newly acquired PHD was awakened to the news that the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound. (Carvalho & Cornellier, 2009)

This area once thrived with a variety of marine life. It is estimated that 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the sound, invading 11,000 square miles killing 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring along with their eggs. (Cutler, 2010) Interestingly over the past twenty years of investigations, litigation, broken promises, injured resources, and ongoing environmental issues, the people of Cordova are still plagued by this catastrophic event in the twenty first century. According to experts involved in the clean up, this event is considered remediated.

The people of Cordova feel differently. Twenty years later as was depicted in the documentary “Black Wave” they still have residual effects of oil present on their shorelines, in their marine life offspring and in the health problems some residents suffered from and continue to suffer from today. (Carvalho & Cornellier, 2009) They cry out for the broken promises of Exxon Valdez’s spokesperson that promised, “to make them whole again”. (Carvalho & Cornellier, 2009) The people of Cordova sought restitution for the damages of their lands and ecosystems as well as the loss of their livelihood and health. Sadly the battle of the people of Cordova against big business corporations showed the citizens of the United States that money is power.

The cost of this event was estimated to be in the billions of dollars. (ARLIS, 2010) Unfortunately the documentary only portrayed the people of Cordova, their sufferings and the ultimate catastrophic effects of this tragedy. The Alaskan library sources, newspapers, environmental and government agencies as well as Exxon itself all have written statements of the facts and faults that were the ultimate outcome of this event, as well as areas to be improved upon so that something of this magnitude will never happen again. While the marine life population in Cordova has been estimated to be returning, the species of Pacific Herring and Pigeon Guillemots have not. (ARLIS, 2010)

Human service areas such as commercial fishing, recreation and tourism that the area relies on as a resource, is still in recovery status. (ARLIS, 2010) In conclusion the impact of this documentary shows many areas of how the system failed the people of Cordova. It shows how our legal systems, political and government entities protect big business instead of the citizens of this country. Most appalling, is the expendability of human life and that of our planet for monetary gain.


ARLIS. (2010, May). Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Souncil.Retrieved from, R. (Producer), Carvalho, P., Cornellier, R.(Writers), & Cornellier, R. (Director). (2009). Black Wave [Motion Picture]. United States of America.Cutler, C. (2010, June 09). Exxon Valdez oil spill. (P. Saundry, Ed.) Retrieved from