Three years after BP spill, the Gulf ecosystem is still collapsing


If you’re a regular reader of the blog, it will come as no surprise to you that the ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill is considerally worse than depicted in much of the mainstream media — let alone by the tens of millions on dollars of bogus PR spin that BP has purchased on your television screen. Over the last 36 months, we’ve told you about dead and stranded dolphins, the damage to sea turtles, and about red snapper with lesions or shrimp with no eyes, not to mention the cleanup workers and others sickened by their exposure to BP’s oil and to the toxic chemical Corexit that was used to make the oil vanish from sight.

In recent weeks, BP and the tragic events of April 2010 — including the rig explosion that killed 11 workers — have been back in the news, largely due to the government aggressively pursuing its civil case for gross negligence in a New Orleans courtroom. And so as the third anniversary of the grim event passed, the public has learned more through that testimony about the greed-fueled blunders by BP and its contractors that caused the rig explosion. But too little attention has been focused on the ongoing environmental impact.

In a way, it’s not surprising, then, that it took a British newspaper to come in from across the Atlantic and tie everything together. The article that ran this weekend in the UK’s The Independent covers many of the subjects — and talks to some of the same fearless and unbiased, on-the-ground experts — that you’ve seen on this blog, and adds some disturbing new information about the state of dolphins in the Gulf waters. The article is called  “Dead dolphins and shrimp with no eyes found after BP clean-up.” Here is an excerpt:

Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013. More than 650 dolphins have been found beached in the oil spill area since the disaster began, which is more than four times the historical average. Sea turtles were also affected, with more than 1,700 found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012 – the last date for which information is available. On average, the number stranded annually in the region is 240.

Contact with oil may also have reduced the number of juvenile bluefin tuna produced in 2010 by 20 per cent, with a potential reduction in future populations of about 4 per cent. Contamination of smaller fish also means that toxic chemicals could make their way up the food chain after scientists found the spill had affected the cellular function of killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain.

Deep sea coral, some of which is thousands of years old, has been found coated in oil after the dispersed droplets settled on the sea’s bottom. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist for the US National Wildlife Federation and author of a report published this week on wildlife affected by the spill, said: “These ongoing deaths – particularly in an apex predator such as the dolphin – are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

The point that the article really hammers home — which I’ve also been focused on here at the blog — is the role that the disperant Corexit, which was deployed in enormous quantities in the early days of the Deepwater Horizon spill, has played in making things much worse, pushing oil to the bottom of the Gulf where it is increasingly entering the marine food chain. The article quotes the prominent toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer, with whom I’ve worked closely in the past, on discovering increasing, high levels of  petroleum hydrocarbon in the sea creatures he has examined.

To many people who’ve been following this story casually, the news of dolphin deaths or stranded sea turtles in the early days of the spill in 2010 was a cause for alarm. But what people need to realize is that it’s worse than that, the disease and death among marine life remains elevated, and is increasing in some cases, as remnants of the 5 million barrels of oil spilled BP — as well as the toxic Corexit — works through the food chain. Unfortunately, this is very similar to what scientists found in the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, as it took several years for the worst impacts on fish health to develop. The high morality rate for infant dolphins described in the Indepedent article happened in the first two months of this year

Things are not back to normal here in the Gulf Coast. Citizens need to know the truth — and not just from a British newspaper.

To read the entire Independent piece out of Britain about the state of the ecology of the Gulf, please check out:

To check out some of my previous blog posts about the BP spill, please read:

 © Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

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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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