Oil Spill Facts: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:03 What Are Oil Spills?
  • 0:37 Causes of Oil Spills
  • 1:17 Effects of Oil Spills
  • 2:12 Infamous Oil Spills
  • 2:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Beth Mullikin

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Oil spills have occurred many times each year since the 1970s. Learn what causes these destructive and deadly accidents, how they affect the environment, and about some of the most infamous oil spills of all time.

What Are Oil Spills?

Have you ever made a mess that was so bad that you didn't even know where to begin in order to clean it up? You are not alone - this happens all the time to our environment during an oil spill. An oil spill is a form of pollution - harmful or poisonous things that people put into the environment. Oil spills usually happen in the ocean, but oil can spill on land as well. These spills cause many devastating effects - mainly to animals, but also to plants and to people. Unfortunately, oil spills happen quite frequently.

Causes of Oil Spills

Although there have been oil spills as far back as 1907, they really started to happen more frequently in the 1970s. Oil is a used across the world for many things, including making plastic items and for use in people's cars. Because so many people use it all over the world, the oil is transported in huge tankers, which are giant boats. But these can leak, crash, or explode, causing the oil to spill into the ocean. There are other ways oil spills can happen too, like when people actually dump oil into the sea (this is illegal), drill for oil in the sea, or when their boats or jet skis leak oil.

Effects of Oil Spills

Oil spills are extremely damaging to the environment. The shiny substance that forms on the sea when oil is spilled causes many marine animals, like seabirds, sea otters, and killer whales, to get sick and die. Many marine plants are affected, as well. The oil creates a thick layer on top of the water that does not allow light to pass through, so the plants are unable to survive. Oil can make people sick, especially if it gets into the seafood that people eat, such as shrimp or fish.

But the damage doesn't stop there: if the oil spill happens in an area where there are hurricanes, the oil can be blown through the air onto the land. Imagine that you spill a bunch of dirt on the floor in your house. Before you're able to clean it up, someone turns on the ceiling fan. This will cause the dirt to blow across the floor and through the air. This is similar to how oil spills can become airborne.

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