Report: Effects of spill will unfold over years


NEW ORLEANS – The effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and the animals that live in it will take place over years, if not decades, a new report by a prominent environmental group says.

The National Wildlife Federation said it is much too soon to make snap judgments about how much harm has been done. “Other oil spill disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects and often recovery is still not complete after decades,” the report said.

Douglas Inkley, a senior scientist with the group, said it’s far from clear how much damage had been caused to Bluefin tuna, shrimp, sea turtles, dolphins and pelicans.

The report, which did not break any new scientific ground, was issued Tuesday in advance of the first anniversary of the BP spill on April 20.

For dolphins, the report highlighted a spate of strandings since January. Federal researchers are looking into the deaths, which are more than four times the normal amount, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report said the spill could add more stress to the depleted Atlantic Bluefin tuna stocks that spawn in the Gulf. Bluefin tuna stocks have decreased by about 80 percent since 1970.

The report said shrimp could also be hurt by the ongoing erosion of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and the oiling that the Louisiana coast took during the spill. The report said it would be important to watch for how much shrimp is harvested every year and whether oil contamination lingers in the delta’s wetlands.

Sea turtles were hit hard by the spill, the report said. It noted that turtle strandings were eight times higher than the 22-year average between May and June last year during the height of the spill. The report also said that 481 of the 609 known turtle deaths were Kemp’s ridley turtles, an endangered species that only nests in the Gulf. Oil damage to sargassum, a floating seaweed that is an important forage and nesting spot for turtles, is another concern, the report said.

The report said the loss of coastal habitat, compounded by the oil spill, was the biggest threat to brown pelicans. The report said oil contaminated some pelican nesting grounds.

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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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