How Do Oil Spills Harm Wildlife?

Wednesday 26th January 2022

Alice Redshaw

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Though oil spills have decreased dramatically in recent decades, they do still take place. Due to its toxic and dangerous nature, an oil spillage should be taken extremely seriously. The impact on wildlife is far-reaching and complex and could lead to long-term consequences if not dealt with right away.

Read our blog below to find out more about how oil can harm different species. 


Exposure to oil may can be devastating for wildlife. When an animal inhales this hazardous substance, damage to their bodies include lung conditions and burns. Over time, these lung issues can result in respiratory problems.

The effect on different species may vary. In the process of cleaning their bodies, birds are at risk of inhaling oil from the surrounding environment and their feathers. This can harm their airways and central nervous system. If you come across a bird in this condition, the RSPB has provided some useful information on how you can help.

If an oil spillage is not dealt with immediately, the ramifications could become irreversible. A professional cleaning company is required to clean the spill promptly to try and limit destruction to the environment and wildlife nearby.


Another way wildlife can be harmed by oil is through ingestion. This could come from drinking or eating substances that are covered in oil.

As animals hunt for food, they will not realise that they are potentially coming into contact with oil. During the eating process, wildlife are exposing themselves to the possibility of becoming poisoned.

When animals ingest oil, it can cause internal issues with their:

  • Nervous system
  • Digestive tract
  • Liver

Animals may not necessarily survive this exposure to oil, as their bodies will not be able to cope with this substance that does not belong in their body.


 This can occur from dispersants present in the atmosphere, or through their skin. From this, the animal may suffer from skin irritation or burns, which could later lead to infection in particular types of wildlife.

For birds, the consequences can be serious. Insulation that they receive from their feathers could be impacted by oil and leave them unable to warm themselves in colder temperatures. Hypothermia may result, which could be fatal.


Sadly, an oil spillage can also affect the reproduction of wildlife. Over a period of time, this may have a negative effect on the numbers of wildlife present within an ecosystem.

Animals who lay eggs are at particular risk from oil spills. For example, sea turtles who nest on land may see their eggs smothered by this hazardous substance. There is also a chance that the eggs produced by females may not be thick enough to withstand the impact of oil exposure, and subsequently crack.

This could have a dreadful impact on species who are already struggling to survive. It is very important that as soon as an oil spillage occurs, a professional team is sent to deal with it.

Destruction of habitats

Although wildlife can be harmed directly from exposure to oil, they can indirectly suffer from damage caused to their ecosystem. It can harm many different habitats, from coast lines to sea beds.

For ecosystems that are vulnerable, such as coral reefs, the effects of an oil spillage could be catastrophic. The hazardous substance can impact every aspect of the reef, from growth to development. This will likely put many species at risk who rely on this environment to live.

If an oil spillage occurs on a beach, the hazardous substance can bury itself far down within the sand. This would effect the ecosystems of many animals who live on beaches or who come into contact with oil that has drifted in from the sea or been spilled on the coast.

Hire a professional oil cleaning company

As soon as an oil spillage is identified, a professional cleaning company must be called. As it is a hazardous substance, you should not attempt to remedy the issue yourself. The cleaning team will have the qualifications to carefully dispose of the oil and take it to a hazardous substance site to be dealt with.

We offer an oil spill clean up service here at ICE Cleaning and have over 10 years’ experience in treating it. Our technicians undergo rigorous training before they are allowed to clean this type of substance. It is incredibly important to us to ensure the safety of everyone is involved, so all the necessary safeguards are put in place.

Due to the damage that it can cause to the environment and neighbouring wildlife, time is of the essence when cleaning up an oil spill. Once on site for the oil spill cleaning, we will treat any hazards present, which includes in the air.

Also check out our blog on the top oil spills in the UK to learn more about their impact.

Get in touch

If you would like to find out more about our oil spill clean up service, we can be contacted on 0208 066 0360 or Our dedicated customer service team work around the clock to assist you with whatever you need.

If you have noticed an oil spillage, you can use this tool here to report it.

Zoe Dunning

Zoe Dunning

Sales Representative

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