BP Oil Spill: Have We Made Any Progress?

by Sarah Patterson

It has been almost 5 years since the Deepwater Horizon Blowout, also known as the BP oil spill. On April 20, 2010, an oil rig exploded and then sank into the gulf. Oil gushed out of the rig for 87 days until it was finally stopped on July 15th. The explosion killed 11 people and injured many others. Approximately 210 million gallons of oil spilled out into the gulf. There is no doubt this event was a huge travesty. Are we still experiencing impacts?

There are varying opinions on just how severe these impacts are and how long they will last. The longest lasting impact of the oil is on the wildlife. Many species are struggling to recover. However, some areas of the gulf are beginning to recover, including beaches and some marshes. Nature has begun healing itself.

Overall, the impacts are not as horrific as they could have been. Dr. Chris Reddy, who has his PhD in chemical oceanography and is a scientist for the non-profit organization Woods Hole Oceanography Institution, says that there are still impacts. But at what scale are these impacts affecting us today?

Reddy says that we should recognize “how good of a chemist Mother Nature is when dealing with an uninvited guest.”

Jane Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University with a PhD in marine ecology from Harvard University, said in an article in the Times-Picayune :“Much of the oil disappeared relatively quickly thanks to the existence of bacteria [in the Gulf].” She explained that the warm water and the circulation of water in the Gulf helped certain bacteria to consume the oil. The spill could have been much worse, but nature was able to help fix itself.

Dr. Ed Overton, an emeritus professor at Louisiana State University with a PhD in environmental science, said in an article in the Times-Picayune :“the environment is bouncing back very well… Oil is still in the marsh, but the fish, shrimp, birds had returned to the area a year later.”

BP-oil-spill-clean-up-Ala-006

Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features

A large concern was that the oil would ruin the beaches and tourism would decrease. However, Dr. Reddy, who visited the gulf shores in Florida and Alabama a few weeks ago, said that there are “no globes of oil on the beach.” Beaches still have some oil, but only in small particles called “sand patties, which are 10% oil and 90% sand,” explains Reddy. Tourism is still booming on gulf shores, and is still a multi-million dollar industry. Reddy says, “tourism, economy, local beaches; I don’t think are a concern anymore.”

Finally, another reason the gulf is beginning to recover is the fact that so many volunteers have helped to restore the gulf. The massive effort by nonprofit organizations and volunteers helped restore animals and their habitats.

Although these improvements have happened in the gulf, we should remember that there are still serious problems.

The largest of these impacts is on wildlife and their habitats.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, birds, turtles, shellfish, fish and some other animals are the most affected by oil. When birds come in contact with oil, they can have trouble flying, floating or diving. They also may ingest the oil when grooming themselves, which can eventually lead to death.

Dolphins and turtles are still experiencing effects from the oil spill.  Dolphins have developed lung disease and are still dying off from the oil. Endangered sea turtles died from the oil, and dead turtles are still being found, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Species of fish that are most affected by the spill include Yellow fin tuna and Blue tuna. Oil affects the fish through ingestion and absorption through their gills. Their eggs and larvae can be killed from the oil as well.

There have been so many negative impacts from the Deepwater Horizon Blowout that it is important to take the time to understand some positives. Parts of the gulf have recovered and the impacts on some areas were not as severe as initially predicted.  There is still plenty of recovery and restoration that needs to be done, especially towards healing the wildlife that has been affected. Communities, non-profit organizations, scientists and volunteers continue to strive to improve the impacts from this disaster.

For more information on the wildlife affected and the actual numbers of affected animals, Ocean Conservancy put together research findings here:

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/places/gulf-of-mexico/pdf-4-years-after-bp.pdf

For more information on how wildlife is affected by oil, U.S. Fish and Wildlife released a fact sheet.

http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/pdfs/DHJICFWSOilImpactsWildlifeFactSheet.pdf

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