It was just after midnight on March 24, 1989, when an Exxon Shipping Co. tanker ran aground outside the town of Valdez, Alaska, spewing millions of gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the pristine Prince William Sound.

The world watched the aftermath unfold: scores of herring, sea otters and birds soaked in oil, and hundreds of miles of shoreline polluted. Commercial fishermen in the area saw their careers hit bottom.

It’s been 30 years since the disaster, at the time the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Only the 2010 Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has eclipsed it.

FILE - In this April 4, 1989, file photo, the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez, left, unloads oil onto a smaller tanker, San Francisco, as efforts to refloat the ship continue on Prince William Sound. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton, File)
FILE – In this April 4, 1989, file photo, the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez, left, unloads oil onto a smaller tanker, San Francisco, as efforts to refloat the ship continue on Prince William Sound. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton, File)

The 986-foot (300-meter) Exxon Valdez tanker was bound for California when it struck Alaska’s Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. It spilled 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of crude oil, which storms and currents smeared across 1,300 miles (2,092 million kilometers) of shoreline.

The oil also extensively fouled spawning habitat in Prince William Sound for herring and pink salmon, two of its most important commercial fish species.

Fishermen and others affected by the spill dealt with ruined livelihoods, broken marriages and suicides. Exxon compensation checks, minus what fishermen earned on spill work, arrived too late for many.

FILE - In this photo taken April 9, 1989, file photo, a local fisherman inspects a dead California gray whale on the northern shore of Latouche Island, Alaska. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE – In this photo taken April 9, 1989, file photo, a local fisherman inspects a dead California gray whale on the northern shore of Latouche Island, Alaska. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)

Most of the affected species have recovered, but the spill led to wide-scale changes in the oil industry. Today, North Slope oil must be transported in double-hull tankers, which must be escorted by two tugs. Radar monitors the vessel’s position as well as that of icebergs.

FILE - In this May 27, 1989, file photo, people carry signs to protest the Exxon oil spill in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Marion Stirrup, File)
FILE – In this May 27, 1989, file photo, people carry signs to protest the Exxon oil spill in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Marion Stirrup, File)
FILE - In this April 17, 1989, file photo, a worker makes his way across the polluted shore of Block Island, Alaska, as efforts are underway to test techniques to clean up the oil spill of the tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE – In this April 17, 1989, file photo, a worker makes his way across the polluted shore of Block Island, Alaska, as efforts are underway to test techniques to clean up the oil spill of the tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE - In this April 9, 1989, file photo, crude oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez, top, swirls on the surface of Alaska's Prince William Sound near Naked Island, days after the tanker ran aground, spilling millions of gallons of oil and causing widespread environmental damage. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE – In this April 9, 1989, file photo, crude oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez, top, swirls on the surface of Alaska’s Prince William Sound near Naked Island, days after the tanker ran aground, spilling millions of gallons of oil and causing widespread environmental damage. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE - In this April 11, 1989, file photo, thick crude oil that washed up on the cobble beach of Evans Island sticks to the boots and pants of a local fisherman in Prince William Sound, Alaska. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE – In this April 11, 1989, file photo, thick crude oil that washed up on the cobble beach of Evans Island sticks to the boots and pants of a local fisherman in Prince William Sound, Alaska. (AP Photo/John Gaps III, File)
FILE - In this April 21, 1989, file photo, crews use high pressured hoses to blast the rocks on this beachfront on Naked Island, Alaska. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton, File)
FILE – In this April 21, 1989, file photo, crews use high pressured hoses to blast the rocks on this beachfront on Naked Island, Alaska. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton, File)
FILE - In this April 2, 1989, file photo, sea lions get oil on them as they swim in the water and sit on the rock at Prince William Sound, Alaska. (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File)
FILE – In this April 2, 1989, file photo, sea lions get oil on them as they swim in the water and sit on the rock at Prince William Sound, Alaska. (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File)
FILE - In this July 17, 1989, file photo, around 200 people showed up at Fiesta Island in San Diego, to protest the use of Exxon products. (AP Photo/Brent Clingman, File)
FILE – In this July 17, 1989, file photo, around 200 people showed up at Fiesta Island in San Diego, to protest the use of Exxon products. (AP Photo/Brent Clingman, File)