Toxicologist: “We could be getting to the point that puts coral over the edge”; Masters: “a major ecological disaster … cannot be ruled out.”
UPDATE: CNN reports that NOAA “has shut down fishing in 19 percent of the Gulf over which the federal government has jurisdiction,” 45,728 square miles.
On May 6 I wrote, “the dispersant-laced oil spill may soon be entrained in the Loop Current, which is part of the Gulf Stream, sweeping it toward the Florida Keys, home to America’s biggest coral reef” (see “Out of Sight: BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil“).
Now that worst-case scenario has played out. And as meteorologist Jeff Masters explains:
The latest surface current forecasts from NOAA’s HYCOM model show that oil could continue pouring into the Loop Current for most of the rest of the week. It is highly uncertain how diluted the oil might get on its voyage to northwestern Cuba and the Florida Keys this week, but the possibility for a major ecological disaster in the fragile Keys ecosystem cannot be ruled out.
For my earlier post, I spoke to toxicologist Carys Mitchelmore, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, an expert on the impact of dispersants and dispersed oil on marine life.
She is particularly concerned about corals because they are “under siege from multiple sources, including human sewage, metal pollution, and of course they are dealing with issues from global climate change including warming and ocean acidification.” See for instance, “Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.”
“We could be getting to the point that puts coral over the edge,” in terms of its long-term survival, she warned.
Brad Johnson has more:
Jeff Hoffmeyer, a marine scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Fisheries Research and Development, told the Wonk Room two weeks ago of the frightening consequences of the slick getting caught in the Loop Current:
“If it gets entrained into the Loop [Current], it’s up into the Atlantic. And who knows where it’s going to go from there. As it moves around Florida, the next or another critical area would be the Florida Keys and the coral reefs we have down there. I don’t even want to think about that area being covered in oil. Once it works its way up the East Coast and potentially crossing the Atlantic, it could be far-reaching.”
Over 625,000 gallons of toxic dispersants have been sprayed on the oil slick, including 45,000 gallons of dispersants injected directly at the wellhead “” creating an invisible toxic cloud of unknown size a mile below the sea surface.
Update: Tar balls have washed up on Key West beaches. If they are from the leading edge of the oil gusher, that would mean that some oil already has been entrained in the Loop Current for several days.