Politics

The BP Oil Spill’s Toll On Gulf Coast Wildlife: ‘All Bets Are Off’

Orange-colored oil from the April 22 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reached Louisiana’s fragile Chandeleur Islands, which are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, an area that officials have now closed so that nesting sea birds will be undisturbed and to “allow cleanup operations continue uninhibited.” Environmentalists are increasingly worried about the toll the spill will take on more than 400 species in this rich nursery area. As Nancy Rabalais, a scientist who heads the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said, “The magnitude and the potential for ecological damage is probably more great than anything we’ve ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico.”

ThinkProgress’ Brad Johnson was blogging from the Gulf Coast and spoke with Gulf Coast marine scientists who all agreed that the “unfolding oil disaster could mean devastation beyond human comprehension” and “all bets are off.” Ichthyologist Bruce Comyns, a research scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory elaborated on the devastating impact the spill may have on the region:

This is “the worst time” of year that this disaster could have begun, Dr. Comyns said, as this is the peak of the spawning and nesting season for marine wildlife in the Gulf, from fish to turtles to dolphins. As he has done in previous years, Dr. Comyns was planning to head out into the Gulf of Mexico to sample larval fishes from the edges of the Loop Current — a research trip that now has newly critical and disturbing import.

A look at what is happening to animals in the Gulf region, and the potential for more disaster:

BIRDS: “I can’t imagine we’re not going to have some mass casualties” among birds in the Gulf region, predicted Michael Parr of the American Bird Conservancy. What makes the timing especially bad is that many of the birds converging on area are “preparing to raise their young in nests in the marsh and along sandy beaches.” Birds — which are often the first to feel the effects of an environmental disaster — are already turning up either dead or covered in oil.

SEA TURTLES: At least 38 endangered sea turtles “have washed up dead on beaches along the Gulf of Mexico,” although it’s unclear if their deaths were related to the oil spill. Nevertheless, turtles are still at risk from the spill, as they come ashore to lay their eggs. Last week, Johnson told ThinkProgress that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had forbidden the media from observing the sea turtle necropsies at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.

Watch the National Wildlife Foundation’s video of a baby sea turtle that has been stained orange, struggle in the oily sea:

FISH: On Sunday, federal officials “shut down fishing for at least 10 days from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle” because of the oil spill, and people in the seafood industry are worried what will happen to their supply. Comyns told Johnson that he found blue fin tuna larvae “right in the vicinity” of the oil rig’s discharge. Even the dispersant BP is using — Corexit 9500 — has a “toxicity to early life stages of fish, crustaceans and mollusks” four times greater than petroleum.

OTHER MARINE LIFE: Because the spill happened at such a deep level, this oil is “heavier and thicker than the crude spilled in past,” creating an emulsion that is highly toxic to lifeforms. Small organisms such as clams, tubeworms, plankton, sand crabs, and shrimp — which are often sources of food for other organisms such as fish, whales, and otters — are also at risk. Yesterday, an AP journalist reported seeing “hundreds of dead jellyfish” west of the mouth of the Mississippi River.


UPDATE

The Washington Post reports today, “The slick now is larger than Maryland. Officials shut down additional fishing grounds, effectively putting out of work hundreds more in an industry that is the lifeblood of the region, as well as the Breton National Wildlife Sanctuary. Out in the gulf, birds dove into oily water, dolphins coughed and sharks swam in weird patterns, said marine specialists who have been out on the water tracking the disaster.”

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OSTLSLOLWTFBBQ (sponsored by Purple State) says:

Let’s not forget that the Exxon Valdez spill is still recovering close to twenty years after the fact and that, unlike the comment Rush Limbaugh provided a few years ago, “nature” has not “cleaned itself up”.

It will take a long time, even with human assistance, for nature to reset itself. This will affect the shoreline states’ economies greatly in the years to come. Pointing fingers, for the record, will not save the environmental damage that could stem from this.

This is not “Obama’s Katrina”. This is “America’s tragedy”.