The oil spill was the largest in US maritime history. We review post-spill research and set it in its legal context. The Exxon Corporation, obviously responsible for the spill, focused on restoration, whereas the Trustees, a coalition of state and federal entities, focused on damage and its assessment. Despite billions of dollars expended, little new understanding was gained about the recovery dynamics of a high latitude marine ecosystem subject to an anthropogenic pulse perturbation. We discuss a variety of case studies that highlight the limitations to and shortcomings of the research effort. Given that more spills are inevitable, we recommend that future studies address spatial patterns in the intertidal, and focus on the abundances of long-lived species and on organisms that preserve a chronological record of growth. Oil spills, while tragic, represent opportunities to gain insight into the dynamics of marine ecosystems and should not be wasted.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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