Oceana‚Äôs climate and energy campaign had an eventful April. In our ongoing effort to stop East Coast offshore drilling before it starts, we‚Äôve been working hard to prevent the oil industry from taking the first step toward drilling: seismic airguns to explore for oil.
The specifics of seismic airgun testing are worth understanding if only because the oil industry seems to be counting on Americans‚Äô lack of knowledge about this highly specific technology in order to get a foothold in some ocean areas that have been protected from drilling since the Reagan administration.
Kenai, one of the last two plucky sea otters who survived the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, died on Tuesday at Chicago‚Äôs Shedd Aquarium. When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound off of Alaska it unloaded 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sensitive ecosystem, blanketing 1,300 miles of coastline in viscous sludge. The results were catastrophic. 2,800 sea otters were killed by the spill, including Kenai‚Äôs mother. But Kenai, who fit in the palm of her rescuer‚Äôs hand at the time, survived more than just an oil spill. As the Associated Press article about her notes, the animal‚Äôs longevity offered a window into otter biology:
"In her later years, she provided much information to scientists about geriatric sea otters. Kenai suffered a stroke, underwent ovarian cyst surgery and needed a root canal. She lived to age 23 1/2, while the typical life span of a sea otter is between 15 and 18 years."
That leaves 24 year-old Homer, of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington as the lone surviving otter from the disaster.
Apart from otters, the spill killed 300 harbor seals, 900 bald eagles and 250,000 seabirds. Three species of cormorant, the common loon, the harbor seal, the harlequin duck, the pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot have still not fully recovered. But the spill had consequences for more than just Alaskan wildlife. Four humans died during cleanup efforts and the spill cost more than $300 million to Alaska‚Äôs commercial fishing industry.
While the Valdez disaster was more than 20 years ago the Deepwater Horizon spill reminds us even with all the advantages of modern 21st century technology, whether during drilling or shipping, oil spills are unavoidable. But as Kenai reminds us, if given a chance, nature is amazingly tenacious and resilient.
After a disastrous few weeks that saw drilling shut down in the Arctic due to unpredictable ice floes, and then the failure of its oil containment dome during testing, Shell has decided to scale back plans for drilling in the Chukchi Sea North of Alaska this season. Instead it will drill only ‚Äútop holes‚ÄĚ rather than all the way down into oil-bearing zones.
Oceana is relieved by the development which only points to the inherent difficulty, and danger, of drilling for oil in such an inhospitable environment:
‚ÄúToday Shell announced yet another last minute change of plans for this summer‚Äôs drilling season due to new problems with its oil spill containment equipment,‚ÄĚ said Oceana Senior Pacific Director Susan Murray. ‚ÄúOceana is just glad this didn‚Äôt happen during a real oil spill. This series of blunders inspires anything but confidence in the oil industry‚Äôs ability to safely drill in the Arctic. Shell‚Äôs repeated backtracking, last minute requests for permit and plan changes, and their inability to successfully complete preparations has resulted in mishaps that brings to mind the keystone cops rather than a company that is prepared and ready to work safely . . . If Shell has proved one thing this summer it is that the oil industry is not ready to drill in the Arctic.‚ÄĚ
Besides failing tests on its oil containment dome and its ability to contain an oil spill, Shell also has had trouble this summer anchoring its drillship, the Noble Discoverer, and has been unable to upgrade its oil spill recovery barge, a formerly derelict ship called the Arctic Challenger, to Coast Guard standards.
We‚Äôre pleased to announce that the Spanish government has put an end to proposed oil industry development that would have threatened the Do√Īana National Park, a World Heritage Site, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies.
Plans to build an oil refinery in the Gulf of Cadiz, not far from Do√Īana, would have led to higher ship traffic in the area and a higher risk of oil spills or accidents during the tankers‚Äô unloading operations. Oceana is currently working to create a Marine Protected Area in this section of the Gulf of Cadiz, which would be linked to the National Park.
Do√Īana National Park was established in 1993 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its marshes, streams, and sand dunes are home to plants and animals found almost nowhere else in the world.
Many migratory birds spend their winters in the park lands, and endangered species like the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx (one of the world‚Äôs most endangered cat species) call this area home. In the marshes of Do√Īana National Park, you can also find birds like the Avocet and the Purple Heron, both of which depend on the sensitive estuary habitats.
Increased oil tanker traffic could have potentially damaged the already vulnerable habitats of these animals.
Oceana identified the threats posed by the construction of this oil refinery in 2005, and has been campaigning against it with other conservationist groups. Oceana Europe is now calling on the Spanish government to enact similar protections for other marine protected areas.
We asked our Ocean Heroes finalists: If you were elected President, what would be the first thing on your agenda?
They gave us some pretty great answers, check them out below, and don‚Äôt forget to vote for your favorite finalist! Who knows, maybe one of our finalists will be running for President themselves someday.
Michele Hunter Stop the killing of all marine mammals throughout the entire world.
Hardy Jones Expose levels of pollution.
Kristofor Lofgren I would change our energy policy, because reducing carbon and oil and gas spills, creates a healthier and less acidic ocean.
Dave Rauschkolb End offshore oil drilling.
Rick Steiner An emergency effort in clean, sustainable energy, and energy conservation, to stop climate change and its devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.
Don Voss Appoint Sylvia Earle Secretary of World's Oceans and give her free reins to establish regulations as needed.
Sara Brenes Ban all shark finning in US, no shark products to be sold, imported or exported, create an ocean world conservation summit to try and make a plan to end shark finning, whaling and overfishing and try to create peaceful and safe ocean pact.
The Calvineers Reinforce the Endangered Species Act, especially the Marine Mammal Act so that NOAA would be better funded and more efficient at protecting marine mammals from human made dangers.
Sam Harris No killing sharks on this earth ever!!!!
James Hemphill Ban the chemical BPA from plastics to reduce the human input of toxins in the ocean.
Teakahla WhiteCloud I would ban all long-line fishing and trawler fishing and make sure all ocean laws are strictly enforced and make all reef systems National Parks.
Only a few more days of voting are left, tell us your favorite finalists today at oceana.org/heroes!
Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Maria Jose Cortex, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Kip Evans Photography, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Enrique Talledo.
The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon are being felt in -- you guessed it -- Minnesota.
White pelicans that winter in the Gulf of Mexico and have lived in an oiled Gulf have migrated to far away places such as Minnesota to lay eggs, and the contaminants inside them have traveled as well.
Preliminary testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that petroleum compounds were present in 90 percent of the first batch of eggs tested and nearly 80 percent of the eggs contained the chemical dispersant used during the spill, called COREXIT.
The contamination of white pelican eggs is a bad sign for the developing embryos and potentially their populations. The researchers will be continuing to monitor impacts on the population for years to come, and the true impacts may not be realized for decades.
Mark Clark, a researcher helping with these studies, says, ‚ÄúAny contaminant that makes its way into the bird could be bad, but it could be especially bad if it gets into the egg because that's where the developing embryo and chick starts. And when things go wrong at that stage, there's usually no recovery."
The immediate loss of pelicans and other birds that were covered in oil during the spill was amazingly disheartening and graphic. But these types of sub-lethal impacts show how the next generation may be affected.
While these effects are less noticeable, they are even more concerning for the future of the population. Nearly half of all the bird species that live in the United States spend at least part of the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, and the health of the Gulf is globally significant for birds.
After the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 88% of the birds that were found dead were outside of Prince William Sound, the area immediately affected by the spill, and the number of dead birds found was only a fraction of the total killed by the spill.
The combination of those direct losses, poor reproductive success and changes in the habitat, has prevented some species from recovering, even 20 years later. Although we don‚Äôt yet know the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, these contaminants in eggs serve as a warning sign of things to come.
We need to make sure that BP and the other responsible parties are held accountable for the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill that have likely impacted hundreds to thousands of species.
Even more importantly we need to recognize that these contaminated eggs, and the ongoing damages to wildlife, are part of the overall problem with offshore drilling and spilling. We have much better options for energy, such as offshore wind, and we should use them.
It hasn‚Äôt yet been one year since the worst accidental oil spill in history was finally stopped, but the Interior Department announced Friday that it will open more than 20 million acres of the Western Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas exploration and development.
Oceana‚Äôs senior campaign director Jackie Savitz‚Äôs responded to this outrageous news in the New York Times:
‚ÄúRushing this lease sale puts marine ecosystems at risk before the ink is even dry on the impacts of the BP spill,‚ÄĚ said Jacqueline Savitz of the international conservation group Oceana. She added that the ocean energy bureau ‚Äúappears to be caving to intense pressure from the oil industry to return to ‚Äėbusiness as usual,‚Äô without regard for the extraordinary risks to already imperiled marine animals.‚ÄĚ
Reports following the Deepwater Horizon spill have highlighted the impacts on already struggling species, such as endangered sea turtles and bluefin tuna. Many commercially important fish were spawning at the time of the spill, and studies to measure the impacts have not yet been completed. Until the status of those populations is clarified, it‚Äôs impossible to determine the impacts of this lease sale, a step required prior to the sale.
The Interior Department should not proceed with new lease sales until the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill are better understood, and until we improve our readiness to prevent and respond to major oil spills.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.
This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska‚Äôs Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.
These claims aren‚Äôt based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.
The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a ‚Äúfailure.‚ÄĚ Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn‚Äôt work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:
Today is Blog Action Day, and this year‚Äôs theme couldn‚Äôt be more relevant to us and all you fantastic ocean activists: water.
Water is also an especially poignant theme given the timing. Next Wednesday is the six-month anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill dominated the news -- and this blog -- for several months, and nobody‚Äôs sure what the long-term effects will be on gulf ecosystems.
And yet, just a few days ago, the Obama administration lifted the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling several weeks earlier than planned, and several months before the release of studies about the effects of the oil spill on the gulf.
As Oceana‚Äôs pollution campaign director Jackie Savitz said of the decision, ‚ÄúThis is an incredibly disconcerting and unjustified move, that could open the door for the next great oil disaster. Oil spills are common. The question is not whether there will be another spill but when.‚ÄĚ
But not all the news the past few months has been negative. Yes, the gulf has endured the worst environmental crisis in our nation‚Äôs history, but there are signs of hope. Momentum on offshore wind power is building, for one thing.
Two expedition updates in one day - hold on to your hats! In this one, Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson describes yesterday‚Äôs successful shark tagging adventures, including a monster nurse shark:
Today we traveled to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys, to study sharks. On board with us is the shark team from University of Miami‚Äôs R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, led by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag. Other members of the team on board are Lab Manager and graduate student Dominique Lazzare and Captain Curt Slonim.
We arrived in the Dry Tortugas National Park, anchored near Fort Jefferson and started surveying for sharks. We had a successful research trip where we tagged and sampled three Caribbean reef sharks and two nurse sharks. We attached identification tags to the Caribbean reef sharks and sent them back on their way. The nurse sharks were too big and feisty to bring on the boat for tagging‚Ä¶one was 10.5 feet long and was the biggest nurse shark any of us had ever seen.