By Randy Sturgill
The waters off the North Carolina coast are known as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.” Since the 16th century, thousands of ships have wrecked on the area’s deadly capes and shoals. Even today, mariners still dread these places, including familiar places like Cape Hattaras, Cape Lookout, and Cape Fear.
Today marks the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill. Oil has long stopped flowing from the leaking rig, but that doesn’t mean the disaster is over. Local fishermen have been making some off-putting discoveries: nets full of eyeless shrimp, clusters of clawless crabs, and more.
Oil and the dispersants used to break it up are making it into the food chain, which could account for some of these deformities. Al Jazeera has been interviewing people involved in the Gulf seafood business and published the disturbing results of those interviews today.
One fisher told them she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within …”
Another said that shrimp numbers have dropped dramatically, and that they see shrimp with tumors on their heads every day. Louisiana fishers have pulled up entire nets of eyeless shrimp. Some crabs have soft or misshapen shells. Fish and shrimp have tumors and lesions.
Such deformities happened even before the spill, but the high number of diseased and deformed animals being found after the spill shock both fishers and scientists. In some areas after the spill, a startling 50% of fish have these lesions.
One scientist said he thought the issues could be traced to chronic exposure to PAHs [a compound found in crude oil] released in the process of weathering oil.
And it’s not just fish that have been affected by oil. Gulf dolphins have been found sick and dead, and the numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil.
The sad state of sea life in the Gulf proves that even long after oil is gone from sight, it is still dangerous. It will take decades for the Gulf to recover from this accident. In the meantime, we here at Oceana are working hard to push for safer energy sources and keep oil drills out of our waters.
Please visit our Stop the Drill page to sign a petition for clean energy and learn more about the dangers of offshore drilling.
Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.
Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.
The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.”
Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California.
These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.
Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.
It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.
Oceana was joined by longtime supporters Kate Walsh ("Private Practice" and "Grey's Anatomy") and Aaron Peirsol (gold medal-winning swimmer) in Washington, D.C. today to remember the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. We were also joined by Patty Whitney, a Louisiana resident-turned-activist whose home was affected by last year's disaster.
Along with campaign director Jackie Savitz, and a slew of energetic volunteers, the group served to remind us that offshore drilling is never safe - and that an oil spill could happen anywhere. Check out this slideshow of images from today's event.
A week from today marks the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and the effects of the spill on the gulf’s ecosystems and wildlife are beginning to come into view, though the full effects won’t be understood for years.
This week the New York Times published an overview of the latest findings. The good news is that although miles of marsh are still oiled and tar balls continue to wash up on beaches, the Gulf of Mexico can thank its oil-eating bacteria for digesting some of the crude oil and the methane gas.
Not all the news is so good, however. Here are some of the latest findings about Gulf wildlife:
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
Last week, the federal government released a report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. In some ways, the Commission got it exactly right. After extensive study, the Commission concluded that:
• The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster was not an isolated incident, and
• It was the result of systemic failure in the oil industry and its government regulators.
But where the Commission failed was in its recommendations for the future of the oil industry in America. While acknowledging that offshore drilling can never be safe, the Commission declined to recommend removing the cap on liability for drilling disasters like the Deepwater Horizon. Explaining this decision on national television, Chairman Reilly said that some Commission members worried that removing liability limits for disasters would cause the international oil companies to transfer operations to countries that limited their risks from failures like the one this summer in the Gulf.
Today, Congress returns from elections to wrap up its work for this session, which means that time is running out for the Senate to pass any legislation in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The House of Representatives already passed their version of a spill response bill back in July, and now it is the Senate’s turn to act.
The Gulf of Mexico needs help, and it needed it yesterday. Of course, the only way to prevent another catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is to ban new offshore oil and gas drilling. In the meantime, the least we can do is pass a bill to clean up and restore the devastation that the oil industry has inflicted upon our oceans and coasts.
Oceana campaign director Jackie Savitz discussed the dangers of dispersants on CNN’s “The Situation Room” last night, check it out:
And tomorrow she will testify before the full Senate Environment & Public Works Committee about the known effects of dispersants. Savitz will offer her perspective on use of Corexit, and will argue that dispersant use is “the lesser of two evils.”
From today's Washington Post:
"The worst case has just happened," [Ellen Hambro, director general of Norway’s Climate and Pollution Agency which is currently studying the Deepwater Horizon spill in order to learn from the crisis,] said. "We don't know yet the consequences, environmental or political."
After writing about our visit to the bird rehab center in Louisiana last week, I promised to write a second post going into more detail about the cleaning process for oiled birds the next day. Well, I ended up on a boat for a couple of days, and the week got away from me – so here’s my long-promised update!
Jay Holcomb's International Bird Rescue Research Center is managing the cleaning process for most of the birds taken off the water after the oil spill. So far, they’ve had nearly 600 birds go through the process, mostly pelicans. The space the rescue center inhabits is a large warehouse in the bayou, but they’re already running out of room: While we were there, a worker was building new outdoor cages.
There are no interior walls in the warehouse, which has an assembly-line precision: The birds arrive in pet carriers and are quickly evaluated by a vet in scrubs and rubber boots in one corner known as the medical station, and then they’re placed in plywood-sided compartments with other birds. The birds we saw were all pretty well covered in oil, and in varying states of distress.