Even a loon knows the Gulf is still a mess after 5 years


Thank God for the National Wildlife Federation. Few non-governmental agencies have worked as hard at staying on the case of the 2010 BP oil spill, and documenting that severe harm that has been done to the various creatures of the Gulf of Mexico. With the 5th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon accident less than a month away, the researchers at the NWF continue to perform yeoman’s work in counteracting the non-stop corporate spin coming from across the Atlantic. To read BP’s self-produced progress report — in which everything is just hunky-dory and the Gulf is completely back to its normal state — and to then peruse the federation’s latest survey of severe and ongoing environmental damage is too look into two alternate universes. One of them is pure fiction, of course, while the other is rooted firmly in reality.

“Given the significant quantity of oil remaining on the floor of the Gulf and the unprecedented large-scale use of [dispersant] during the spill, it will be years or even decades before the full impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is known,” the report said. “It is clear that robust scientific monitoring of the Gulf ecosystem and its wildlife populations must continue — and that restoration of degraded ecosystems should begin as soon as possible.”

Here’s a good summary of some of the wildlife federation’s findings:

The National Wildlife Federation’s report argues the contrary. It blames the spill for the deaths of 12 percent of the brown pelican population in the northern Gulf, and 32 percent of the laughing gulls in the same area. It notes that compounds from both oil and the dispersant used to clean up the oil have been found in white pelican eggs in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.

The report also cited 2014 research which found two new coral reefs in the deep ocean that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill, indicating a possible impact on marine ecosystems in the hard-to-analyze deep sea. It also cited the unusual string of bottlenose dolphin deaths which have been linked the the BP spill, though BP adamantly denies culpability.

The NWF study also documents, in meticulous detail, the impact of the spill on species such as blue crab, red snapper, and sperm whale. The effect of exposure to oil is actually worsening over time — the exact opposite of what BP tries to show in its own whitewashed report. Consider how oil works its way up the food chain and is contaminating one particular species of bird, the common loon.

Loons eat mostly fish and spend their lives on the water, going onto land only to nest and mate. This leaves loons particularly vulnerable to direct exposure to oil from polluted water as well as to indirect exposure from eating oil-contaminated fish. Long-lived top predators, loons are indicators of overall ecosystem health.

Oil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are known to compromise immune and hormonal systems and cause a range of other health problems in birds.

Scientists discovered that the frequency and concentrations of PAHs in common loons near Barataria Bay, Louisiana increased between 2011 and 2012, but overall concentrations remained relatively low.

In 2013, however, many loons had PAH levels high enough to cause harm. Researchers also found indications of weathered oil, which contains heavier PAHs that are more toxic to wildlife. This increase may indicate that these oil compounds are making their way up the food chain.

This finding, one of many presented in the NWF paper, is unfortunately exactly what many leading experts predicted back in 2010 — that the environmental impacts would actually worsen over a few years, as toxic crude worked its way deeper into the food chain. But the confirmation of the downward spiral in wildlife health comes at a most critical time, right as the courts and officials are deciding how much BP should pay for its mistakes, and how that money should be spent. That’s why it’s so critical that the world sees the entire, depressing picture — from the tiniest shrimp all the way up the chain to our once majestic sea birds.

Read more about our efforts to expose the truth about the Deepwater Horizon spill in my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

Please read the entire National Wildlife Federation report on harmed species, on the 5th anniversary of the BP spill:  http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/water/2015/Gulf-Wildlife-In-the-Aftermath-of-the-Deepwater-Horizon-Disaster_Five-Years-and-Counting.pdf

Check out a summary of the NWF report from Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/03/30/3640649/bp-spill-still-impacting-animals/

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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