Thursday, April 29, 2010

Feared Environmental Tragedy of Gulf Oil Spill Slowly Becoming Reality

Estimates of oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico have risen from 42,000 gallons a day to 210,000 gallons a day, with some indications that the flow may even be much greater. This situation now threatens wide-scale coastal damage for four Gulf Coast states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Weather Plays a Role

Over the past couple weeks since the spill occurred the weather had been somewhat favorable in containing the oil over open waters, keeping it from making landfall, but with an onshore wind shift and a reversing weather patten, the scale of the oil spill is rapidly multiplying and could very well become an environmental tragedy.

Here are the facts from NOAA:
  • Winds are forecast to become strong (20+ kts) and blow from the southeast starting tomorrow and continuing through the weekend, which will continue to push surface oil towards shore.

  • Oil-spill trajectory analyses indicate that oil continues to move towards shore.

  • Oil-containment booms (or floating barriers) have been deployed as a precaution to protect sensitive areas in the Louisiana area.

  • The effects of oil on sensitive habitats and shorelines in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are being evaluated should oil from the incident make landfall in appreciable quantities.

  • NOAA’s Assessment and Restoration Division is evaluating concerns about potential injuries of oil and dispersants to fish, human use of fisheries, marine mammals, turtles, and sensitive resources.

Tragic Environmental Impacts

Following are some possible impacts on the Gulf environment, commercial fisheries, wildlife and tourism:

  • Fisheris – A number of fisheries could suffer as a result of the spill. The northern Gulf of Mexico is a crucial spawning ground at this time of the year for the Atlantic population of Bluefin Tuna, which is critically endangered. Their eggs float near the surface and the larvae stay there after they first hatch. So, the spill has occurred at a critical time in their life-cycle. The spill could dramatically decrease the amount of Bluefin Tuna larvae that are surviving. Losses could also be inflicted on the shrimp and oyster industries in Louisiana. Oysters are filter feeders and cannot swim to escape the slick.

  • Birdlife – Several areas that are important to bird populations could be potentially affected. According to the National Audubon Society, places it has designated as "Important Bird Areas" or IBAs that could be threatened by the slick include, Chandeleur Islands IBA and Gulf Islands National Seashore IBA in Louisiana and Mississippi; also in Louisiana, the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area. Species at risk include, Louisiana's state bird, the Brown Pelican, which was only removed from the U.S. Endangered Species Act last year. They nest on barrier islands and feed near shore.

  • Tourism – Depending on where the slick goes, a number of beaches could be adversely impacted in areas such as the northwestern part of Florida, which has been running televised ads aimed at attracting tourists to the area.

  • Others - Several species of sea turtles are currently moving through the Gulf, as their spring nesting seasons commences and they need to surface to breathe, so the slick at the water's top could damage their populations.