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, â€śAny 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 donâ€™t 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.
A week from today marks the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and the effects of the spill on the gulfâ€™s ecosystems and wildlife are beginning to come into view, though the full effects wonâ€™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:
We found some incredible images of the oil spill on Flickr, and the noted gulf coast photographer, Matthew White, was kind enough to let us post some of the most arresting ones here for you.
For more information about Matthew White, check out his website at www.matthewwhitestudio.com.
Auburn University is doing some great work on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and their kind folks sent us this photo of a heron walking along an oil boom with a skimming vessel in the background.
In other bird news, Dr. Geoff Hill, nationally-known professor of ornithology at Auburn, recently described the impact of the gulf spill on bird populations, in particular, the brown pelican. Hill drew some interesting comparisons between the impact of the oil and the impact of the pesticide, DDT in the 1970s.
Stay tuned for more from Auburn!
Yesterday, I wrote about tagging along with a NOAA crew as they searched for subsurface oil. The next day, I joined the Fish and Wildlife Service on an expedition with a much more easily visible goal: Checking out the breeding colonies of seabirds that have laid their nests near waters affected by the oil spill.
Nearly 1800 oiled birds have been recovered by rescue teams, and more than a thousand of those were already dead. The majority of the live birds go to Jay Holcomb's bird rescue center. Of course, the Gulf of Mexico is an enormous area, and it's only in recent weeks that a significant number of oiled birds have even been seen â€“ meaning that in the two months since the Deepwater Horizon started gushing oil, there have probably been many more birds affected that we'll never know about.
"This is the tip of the iceberg, what we're bringing in," said Steve Martarano, a public affairs officer with FWS who organized the boat trip to visit the nesting birds. "But we're saving a lot of birds."
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 â€“ so hereâ€™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, theyâ€™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 theyâ€™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 theyâ€™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.
In a cavernous warehouse in Louisianaâ€™s bayou country, hundreds of oiled birds are getting a chance at survival after the BP oil disaster threatened their lives. Most of them are brown pelicans, Louisanaâ€™s state bird, along with some gulls, herons, gannets and terns. Until a couple of weeks ago, there werenâ€™t many birds in this makeshift facility backed up against the Mississippi. But with the oil slickâ€™s expansion closer to shore, the number of birds affected exploded â€“ and the rescue center is racing to keep up.
The center is run by Jay Holcomb, and is primarily staffed by his International Bird Rescue Research Center team. Today, I visited Jay along with Oceanaâ€™s pollution campaign director Jackie Savitz, and got a firsthand look at the critical work that Jay and his team are doing.
We were also on hand to congratulate Jay on winning Oceanaâ€™s 2010 Ocean Heroes Award. He was unable to attend the award ceremony in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago because he was too busy doing the work of an ocean hero â€“ saving birds in the Gulf.
Hereâ€™s a video of Jackie talking to Jay about his work and what happens to the birds after they're released. You can hear the helicopters going out to the spill site overhead.
This yearâ€™s Adult Ocean Hero is Jay Holcomb, the Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). As I wrote a few weeks ago, Jay is down on the Gulf Coast leading his organizationâ€™s efforts to clean up oiled birds from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
How does it feel to win this award?
In a nut shell, it feels really great. I never did the work I do expecting to be awarded for it. My career stems from a passion that has burned in me since I was a child. Being recognized for helping to protect and represent the oceans more or less justifies the sacrifices I have made in my life for my work.
The timing is pretty incredible, huh?
Itâ€™s ironic and poignant that I won this award while I am in the midst of what is looking like the greatest oil spill disaster of all time, and that of course is polluting the ocean and the ecosystems within it.
The impact on the ocean and the world will be severe. This we know. But as horrible as this spill is, the timing may be perfect. This disaster is an opportunity to make the point that the ocean systems are the lifeblood of life on earth as we know it.
Look at what our quest for oil has done, and if this does not evoke a change in how we "fuel" our world then nothing will. We are ALL responsible for this. Not just BP or the oil industry or our government.
Nearly six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the first truly gutwrenching photos of oiled birds have arrived. Here at Oceana, we've been thinking about the oil spill constantly - and yet it's amazing that one image can be so heartbreaking.
Update Friday afternoon: The New York Times' Lens blog has a nice column about the meaning of these first, intimate images of animals in distress. And the AP photo editor who published the images has this hopeful thing to say about the fate of the birds pictured: "I'm told that the birds that were still alive â€” mostly pelicans and up to 40 of them â€” were taken to a bird cleaning facility in Ft. Jackson and are being cared for."
Meanwhile, we've surpassed 75,000 signatures on our petition to end offshore drilling. Please add your name to the list if you haven't already.
For more photos, visit Boston.com.
While oil-covered birds have become an emblematic image of catastrophic oil spills, sea birds arenâ€™t the only ones affected. Oil is extremely toxic to all wildlife, and the toxic effects on marine life begins as soon as the oil hits the water.
Here are 10 examples of how marine life may be affected by the Gulf spill in the coming days, weeks and years