Blog Tags: Gulf Of Mexico
Last week, a United States federal judge ruled that BP’s reckless and negligent behavior is at fault for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people and caused 200 million gallons of oil to flood into the Gulf of Mexico. Today’s ruling opens up BP to billions of dollars in possible civil penalty fines, including a possible $18 billion under the Clean Water Act.
It’s not often that rare, deep-sea creatures present themselves to scientists in plain sight. But in a video captured last month during Nautilus Live, a five-month expedition that’s mapping and documenting seafloor ecosystems around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, an elusive dumbo octopus in the Gulf delighted scientists when it swam right in front of their remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
Ocean News: Mercury Levels Rising in Surface Waters, Penguin Species Threatened by Habitat Degradation, and More
- According to a new study, mercury levels in many of the world oceans’ surface waters have tripled due to human activity. Because mercury drains into the ocean from mines, coal-fired plants, and sewage, mercury levels are higher in surface waters compared to the deep ocean. The Guardian
When you hear about marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, your first thoughts probably turn to sea turtles, shellfish, and brown pelicans. The Gulf is, of course, much richer in biodiversity than that short list, and home to other species like whale sharks and manatees. But, one research program is looking beyond these charismatic species of the Gulf, and recently captured unprecedented footage of marine life near some of the Gulf’s less-well-known habitat like caves and deep sea corals.
April 20 marked the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the process of filming a short film about the aftermath of the spill, “Drill, Spill, Repeat?” Oceana staff met Dr. Bonny Schumaker, a former physicist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who now flies over the Gulf of Mexico looking for oil stemming from the spill. This is the first in a three-part blog series that highlights the many faces of the Gulf’s recovery. Stay tuned for more.
When we told Rory and Maeve McCracken that they had won our 2013 Ocean Hero Awards in the Youth category, they were excited, to say the least: “I could barely breathe, I couldn’t move. I was so happy and so shocked at the same time,” ten-year-old Maeve explained. “I couldn’t really comprehend it at first. To me it’s just a huge honor to be listed with everyone else, let alone to win,” said fourteen-year-old Rory. The competition was stiff, but after 300 nominees, a dozen accomplished finalists, and weeks of voting, Rory and Maeve’ work to save the Gulf of Mexico won the day.
For the past three years, whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico have been undergoing what the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is calling an “unusual mortality event”—that is, they have been stranding and dying off by the hundreds (817 in all), and no one knows why. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe provides a likely explanation, but, in fact, 114 marine mammals died in 2010 even before the devastation of the oil spill had even begun.
It could have something to do with a bacterial infection, known as brucellosis, revealed in some animal necropsies, or it could be related to environmental degradation, climate change, fishing activity, or the cumulative effects of all these combined stressors. Or, it could largely be a natural phenomenon merely exacerbated by anthropogenic impacts (though unlikely). It is truly a mystery.
What is less mysterious is the cause of death for three of the most recent dolphin victims. In the past six months, two bottlenose dolphins washed ashore, one in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, with gunshot wounds to their heads. In Alabama, another live dolphin was discovered stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Though it initially survived this brutality, the dolphin eventually succumbed to its injuries and died. NOAA is currently investigating these cases and asks anyone with any information to call their Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Penalties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act range up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.
Gas has been leaking into the United Kingdom’s North Sea for three days, after an attempt to close an underwater oil well caused a blowout.
Oil drilling accidents happen more often than you might think. Smaller spills and leaks don’t usually make the news, although they can still affect the local environment. And this is why offshore drilling is so dangerous—it’s even harder to contain a leak when it’s underwater.
In this case, there is not much that can be done for the time being. The actual well is plugged, but the highly-pressurized gas (a light crude oil called condensate) is coming from a reservoir close to the surface. It’s possible the leak might close itself within a few days. But if it doesn’t, the only way to resolve it will be to drill a relief well, which will take six months. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was eventually resolved.
The comparisons don’t end there. Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, also compared the two accidents: “It’s unprecedented. High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.”
This leak will not have the same scope of destruction as the Gulf leak, since the condensate is thin and will hopefully evaporate. But after two days, there was already a sheen of condensate two miles long in the North Sea. A vapor cloud is visible rising from the rig, and the area has been evacuated out of fear of an explosion.
Accidents occur everywhere we drill, and there is no way to safeguard the environment from the effects of oil. Shell is currently on its way to begin drilling in the Arctic, far from civilization. If a spill occurs there, the story could be even worse. Join us in calling on President Obama to protect the Arctic environment and all the animals that call it home.
Sad news from the Gulf of Mexico: At least 32 dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the hardest hit spots by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been given physicals and are reported as severely ill according to NOAA officials.
The dolphins are reporting a range of symptoms from being underweight, anemic, low blood sugar and liver and lung disease. One of the studied dolphins has already been found dead.
There has been a large surge in dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill, especially newborn and young dolphins. In 2011 there were 159 strandings just in Louisiana, almost 8 times the historical average in previous years.
The numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil, and the true number is likely 50 times the total of 600 strandings since the spill, so more than 30,000 dolphin mortalities may have been caused by the spill already.
The spike in young dolphin deaths since the spill is extremely concerning, and showed biologists that the health of dolphin populations in the Northern Gulf had been compromised and many miscarriages may have occurred following contact with oil pollution.
Editor's note: This post by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless was originally posted last May on Politico.com. We think it couldn't be more relevant right now, especially considering that many media outlets are now making similar arguments to the one we've been making since last year - that gas prices aren't tied to offshore drilling.
Why do we take terrible risks to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere along our coasts?
Most people would say we drill to protect ourselves from big fluctuations in gasoline prices that are caused by major upheavals in the Middle East.
Their argument is that the more oil we can produce domestically, the lower the price we’ll pay at the pump. It’s not that they like the sight of oil wells off our beaches. The main reason they argue for more offshore oil drilling is they think it will save money — especially since gas prices approached $4 a gallon recently. (See: A chart of U.S. gas prices here.)
- Ocean Roundup: Deep Sea Sediments Act as Microplastic Sinks, Risso’s Dolphins Stranding in High Numbers, and More Posted Thu, December 18, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Task Force Releases Recommendations on Seafood Fraud, Sea Otters Critical to Healthy Marshes, and More Posted Tue, December 16, 2014
- Video: Drone Captures Amazing Humpback Whale Feeding Event on Camera Posted Thu, December 18, 2014
- Presidential Task Force Releases Bold Recommendations for Tackling Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing Posted Tue, December 16, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Chevron Withdraws Drilling Plans from the Arctic, Peru Issues Ban on Shrimp Fishing, and More Posted Fri, December 19, 2014