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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

BP Oil Marring Deep-Water Corals 13 Miles Out

Posted On July 31, 2014 by

Photo: Fisher lab, Penn State University

Deep-water corals keep good records, which come in handy in the case of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Researchers from Penn State University discovered this week that the impact of the BP oil disaster on corals living in the cold waters at the Gulf of Mexico seafloor is bigger than predicted.

This study joins dozens of others on fish, dolphins and birds as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process that’s critical for tracking the damage that started four years ago at the bottom of the Gulf. Scientists first discovered corals coated in a brown substance only 7 miles from the now-defunct BP well in late 2010. The oil left over from the disaster is more difficult to find in the deep sea (in contrast to the coastline, where the occasional 1,000-pound tar mat washes up on shore), so scientists must look to corals for clues on how the marine environment was impacted. “One of the keys to coral’s usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of the damage long after the oil that caused the damage is gone,” said lead researcher Charles Fisher.

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Troubling News for Mahi-mahi in the Gulf

Posted On June 20, 2014 by

Photo: Kelly the Deluded via Flickr Creative Commons

As we watched the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster unfold on beaches and in bays of the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, we wondered, too, about the impacts beyond what we could see on shore. Some of the answers to that troubling question are rolling in. We previously learned about damage to fish embryos, and the latest news involves mahi-mahi, or dolphinfish. These fast-growing, colorful predators are a favorite target of recreational fishermen and restaurant-goers alike across the Gulf, and despite their savage speed, it seems they could not outrun the impacts of BP’s oil.

A new study from the University of Miami last week demonstrated that even “relatively brief, low-level exposure to oil harms the swimming capabilities of mahi-mahi, and likely other large pelagic fish, during the early life stages.” And while it’s troubling to hear that oil reduces the fish’s ability to swim fast – a necessity for finding food and evading predators –the more disturbing revelation is how little oil exposure it takes to cause this damage to such an economically important fish.

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On Gulf Science, BP Puts Up a Fight Instead of Making This Right

Posted On April 24, 2014 by

Photo: Tom McCann

A recent Financial Times article reported that BP rejected the government’s $147 million request to fund Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities in 2014 as part of ongoing efforts to quantify and remedy environmental harm related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The law requires that responsible parties of oil spills, including BP, pay for reasonable costs of assessing oil spill damage to the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) submitted the request, which was the latest in a series of routine requests the NRDA Trustee agencies have submitted since the disaster in 2010. Undertaking scientific study and analysis is the only way for the Trustee agencies to document environmental harm caused by the disaster and to estimate the cost of restoration, for which BP and other companies found liable are responsible. The NRDA injury studies will help guide the types of actions needed to restore resources injured by the disaster. By law, BP may participate in NRDA studies the company funds, but the Trustee agencies analyze the raw data independent of BP and form their own conclusions about natural resource injuries.

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My Personal Journey from Hope to Restoration Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster (Part 2)

Posted On April 18, 2014 by

Photo: Sarah West

2010 marked a changing point both for the Gulf and for me personally. There is a distinct dividing line  ̶ before the disaster and after the disaster. I’ve now worked for Ocean Conservancy for over three years and, as I look forward to the potential opportunities that will arise to make the Gulf healthier, stronger and more resilient. I find myself hopeful. Many times it takes a tragedy or a disaster to make us appreciate what we have. I took the Gulf and all the things it offered throughout my life for granted. Now more than ever I want to protect, preserve and restore this beautiful place. The long road to restoration won’t be a walk in the park. In fact, it will be a marathon.

As impacts emerge, I’m reminded that, even though the oil has stopped flowing, the harmful effects will be felt for years to come. Over the course of the last year, three important stories have emerged about impacts to the Gulf ecosystem:

  1. Dolphins in Barataria Bay are showing severe signs of poor health;
  2. An area of 24 square kilometers at the bottom of the Gulf surrounding the blowout site was severely impacted; and
  3. Multiple studies have been conducted to determine how oil impacts offshore marine fish, such as bluefin tuna.

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New Study Shows Dolphins are Struggling to Recover from BP Oil Disaster

Posted On December 18, 2013 by

Photo: US NOAA Fisheries

Nearly four years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we are beginning to see scientific data that points to the injury caused to important marine mammals like the bottlenose dolphin. A recent NOAA-commissioned study of 32 dolphins living in Barataria Bay, Louisiana – an area of the Gulf heavily oiled by the BP oil disaster – determined that dolphins had severely reduced health.

The animals showed multiple signs of poor health, including tooth loss, lung disease, reduced hormone levels and low body weight. These symptoms were not seen in dolphins at an unoiled comparison site or in previous dolphin health assessments unrelated to this study.

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The New Gulf of Mexico Disaster Imperative: Scientific Baselines and Long-term Monitoring

Posted On December 17, 2013 by

Today, Ocean Conservancy introduces the first in a series of interviews with leading marine scientists whose research is helping to fill many critical and long-standing gaps in our knowledge about the Gulf of Mexico.

This blog series will highlight the need for scientific research and monitoring of the Gulf’s ecosystem. When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began more than three years ago, we discovered precisely how little we understand about the potential impact of a major oil spill on the Gulf, especially on its already stressed marine life and fragile coastal ecology. The disaster’s lasting legacy is being shaped by our current response to this lack of basic knowledge.

Despite the billions of dollars worth of oil pumped out of the Gulf, and the billions more invested in the oil industry itself, there is virtually no corresponding investment in baseline science. The long-term impact of the oil industry on the Gulf ecology (which means looking beyond a five-year window) is not being monitored. Baseline science provides the status of the marine environment to which all future studies will be compared to determine trends in ecosystem integrity.

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Whales Stranded In the Everglades as Response Budgets Dwindle

Posted On December 11, 2013 by

Photo: National Park Service

Whales are mysterious creatures, as the scene that unfolded in the Everglades last week has taught us. Over 50 pilot whales stranded themselves in a remote part of Everglades National Park, and scientists are still unsure what caused this to happen. Strandings are not uncommon, because whales are very social animals, and they are known to gather around a sick member of their pod.

This pod of short-finned pilot whales traveled into just three feet of water – a far cry from the deep Gulf of Mexico where they are common – and responding to this emergency fell to a few knowledgeable groups. A group of 31 first-responders spent days helping the whales to navigate unfamiliar shallows for a 20-mile return journey to more suitable waters. In the end, the pod was last seen swimming back out to sea, but 22 of their members died in the Everglades.

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