New report on BP, Gulf marine life finds it’s much worse than you think


A constant theme since I started this blog nearly four years ago has been the impact of the BP oil spill on the marine life in Gulf of Mexico. One reason for that is that it seemed like the federal authorities were happy to do the bidding of BP and tell the public that everything was nearly back to normal in a matter of weeks; even President Obama made a big show of coming to the Gulf Coast and eating our seafood in that fateful summer of 2010.

We knew better. We knew from past oil spills such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska that it takes years for some of the worst impacts on marine life to show up. But more importantly, we sent researchers into the field, who tracked the ongoing contamination of both the Gulf and the seafood that is caught there. Today, despite millions of dollars in rosy advertising by BP, many people finally understand that things are NOT normal in the Gulf, and will not be for a long time.

With the 4th anniversary of the spill 10 days away, the National Wildlife Federation has released a major report on the impact in marine biology, and even I find the results alarming. The news was particularly devastating about bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles. Here are some of the major findings:

—More than 900 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead or stranded in the oil spill area since April 2010. If you stretched the corpses lengthwise, that’s 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of dead dolphins, Inkley said. Scientists know that is more than in previous years because they’ve been recording deaths and strandings in the Gulf for a decade. Ongoing research also shows that dolphins swimming in oiled areas are underweight, anemic, and showing signs of liver and lung disease

—There are five species of sea turtle that live in the Gulf, and all of them are listed as threatened or endangered by the Endangered Species Act. About 500 dead sea turtles have been found in the spill region every year since 2011—”a dramatic increase over normal rates,” according to the NWF. What’s unknown is how many turtles died at sea and were never recovered by scientists.

—An oil chemical from the spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in the embryos of bluefin and yellowfin tuna. That’s a critical stage of development for the fish, so there’s a lot of concern that the damage could cause heart attacks or deaths, Inkley said.

—Loons, birds that winter on the Louisiana coast, are carrying increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.

—Sperm whales that swam near the BP well have higher levels of DNA-damaging metals in their bodies than in the past. The metals in their bodies, such as chromium and nickel, are the same ones that were present in the well.

The report properly notes that monitoring the impact is an ongoing process, because BP’s oil persists in the Gulf — on the sea floor, in marshes, and turning up on sandy beaches as tar balls or tar mats. “I’m still haunted by the ‘walking dead’ brown pelicans covered head to toe in the oil,” Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, told National Geographic. “We must not let this happen again.” Inkley added that the best way to ensure this doesn’t happen again is to curb our dependence on fossil fuels — exactly what is not happening.

Quite the opposite, permits for new offshore drilling are soaring, including new permits for the newly unbanned BP. That is why it’s so important to share the news of this National Wildlife Federation report with your friends, your family, and your neighbors. The best wise to make wise energy choices in the future is understanding the dire consequences of what we’ve done in the past.

Read more from National Geographic about the new Gulf wildlife report here:

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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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