As the four-year anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig approached, a new National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report looks at how fourteen species of wildlife are faring in the aftermath of the disaster.
“Four years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the spill,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Bottlenose dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying and the evidence is stronger than ever that these deaths are connected to the Deepwater Horizon. The science is telling us that this is not over.”
More than 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the oil spill area since April of 2010. In 2013, dolphins were found dead at more than three times normal rates.
Bottlenose dolphins in one heavily-oiled section of the Louisiana coast have unusual lung damage and immune system problems. Federal scientists have said there is strong evidence that oil from the disaster is making these dolphins so sick; scientists are currently investigating how oil may be implicated in the continuing wave of dolphin deaths across the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Other findings of the report, titled “Four Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration”, include:
- There is strong evidence that the ongoing illness of dolphins in a heavily oiled section of Louisiana is related to oil exposure.
- Roughly five hundred dead sea turtles have been found every year for the past three years in the area affected by the spill – a dramatic increase over normal rates.
- Oyster reproduction remained low over large areas of the northern Gulf at least through the fall of 2012.
- A chemical in oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death.
- Loons that winter on the Louisiana coast have increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.
- Sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico have higher levels of DNA-damaging metals than sperm whales elsewhere in the world – metals that were present in oil from BP’s well.
“The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle has long been the poster child for the possibilities of restoration in the Gulf,” said Pamela Plotkin, associate research professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and director of Texas Sea Grant. “Once close to extinction, it has rebounded dramatically over the past thirty years. But four years ago, the numbers of Kemp’s Ridley appear to have flat-lined. We need to monitor this species carefully, as the next few years will be critical.”
Other oil disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects, and often recovery remains incomplete after decades. Twenty-five years after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, populations of orca and Pacific herring have not yet recovered.
“Despite what BP would have you believe, the impacts of the disaster are ongoing,” said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior policy specialist for Gulf and coastal restoration. “Last year, nearly five million pounds of oiled material from the disaster were removed from Louisiana’s coast. And that’s just what we’ve seen. An unknown amount of oil remains deep in the Gulf.”
BP and the other companies responsible remain on trial in federal court for violations of multiple environmental laws. The report describes how legal proceedings against BP and the other companies responsible for the incident will result in different sources of critically-needed funding for restoration.
“Each penny of these penalties invested in restoration projects backed by sound science will yield exponential benefits for future generations,” said Gonzalez-Rothi. “Unfortunately, there is the potential for money to be diverted to pet projects that will not help and could even harm Gulf wildlife. For the sake of the Gulf and its people, we must speak up and ensure this does not happen.”
Click here to read/download the Full Study.