The Blog Aquatic » BP News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BP Oil Marring Deep-Water Corals 13 Miles Out Thu, 31 Jul 2014 19:09:33 +0000 Rachel Guillory

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.

As you can see in the photo above, the normally gold-colored coral has a number of patchy brown growths, which is not found on healthy coral colonies. This coral has been damaged by BP oil.

So how did the oil get so far away from the source? Since these corals are deeper and further away than those previously discovered, Fisher said it could mean that the oil plume could have been bigger than we thought. Potentially, more oil sank to the seafloor than scientists originally predicted.

Not surprising, BP is already trying to refute the scientists’ work, claiming that the corals could have been oiled by the oil and gas that naturally seep up through the Gulf seafloor. However, natural seeps release only 40,000 gallons a day through small cracks in the seafloor across the entire Gulf of Mexico, from Cuba to Mexico to Mississippi. BP released seven times that—2.5 million gallons a day—in one part of the vast Gulf. It seemed obvious that so much oil over a concentrated area of the seafloor would have serious impacts on our deep-sea corals, and after years of careful study, researchers are now providing the scientific links to document those injuries.

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

]]> 0
Troubling News for Mahi-mahi in the Gulf Fri, 20 Jun 2014 19:20:24 +0000 Libby Fetherston

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.

The more we find out about impacts to open-ocean swimmers like mahi-mahi, tuna and amberjack, the more concerned I get for their bottom-dwelling counterparts.  If these powerful fish, renowned for the distance they can cover, could not escape harm, then what of the snappers and groupers and triggerfish that live much more closely associated with the bottom of the sea? Red snapper, for instance, spend their vulnerable juvenile years in the muddy nearshore flats around the northern Gulf. Many of these same flats were covered in oil and toxic dispersant in 2010. Has it lingered? If brief, low-level exposure is harmful, what will this mean for these fish as they grow to adults?

In the face of this mounting concern, we have two options. We can watch and wait and hope for more independently-funded studies to offer pieces of the puzzle until the Natural Resource Damage Assessment studies are made public, or we can invest restoration money now into fish and fisheries research. The State of Florida is on the right track—they’ve committed $3 million to collect additional data on reef fish through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Florida covers only a portion of the Gulf’s deep waters, however, and in order to properly understand the impacts of oil on offshore fish, we must expand fisheries research to include the entire Gulf.

]]> 15
On Gulf Science, BP Puts Up a Fight Instead of Making This Right Thu, 24 Apr 2014 21:26:03 +0000 Chris Robbins

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.

BP’s refusal to pay for NRDA activities already underway is not helpful, nor does it uphold the spirit of working in good faith that BP continues to tout in full page newspaper ads and TV commercials to this day. This may be a smart legal strategy, but it’s a form of posturing that won’t get us any closer to understanding the environmental harm that was done or the actions needed to restore coastal and marine species, habitats, and the goods and services that support ocean-dependent businesses and a way of life. NOAA’s request covered a wide range of scientific activities for natural resources such as bluefin tuna, sea turtles, dolphins, oysters, coastal wetlands and sargassum, a floating brown alga teeming with marine life. These species and habitats are priorities for continued study because they are among the hardest hit, according to experts and publicly available data and research. Now, because of BP’s refusal, NOAA  essentially must seek an advance from the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to carry out this science. The NPFC, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, is the mechanism set up to adjudicate funding requests for NRDA studies when responsible parities deny those requests.

BP has a legal right to dispute the Trustees’ interpretations of the science, but denying the funding to collect, analyze, and manage the information that supports restoration amounts to sidestepping their repeated commitment to making the Gulf ecosystem whole. The company has a civic duty and a legal obligation to fund the science that is so fundamental to clarifying and repairing harm to the environment. BP, in its own words, should “make this right” by doing right and support this research in the Gulf.

]]> 37
My Personal Journey from Hope to Restoration Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster (Part 2) Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:21 +0000 Kara Lankford

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.

In order to fully restore the Gulf of Mexico from both oil impacts and prior degradation, it will take a comprehensive, holistic approach from the coast to the deep sea. This includes the coastal communities impacted by the spill. It won’t be an easy task and will require some growing pains and the ability to adjust and overcome obstacles. Restoration projects should be guided by the best available science, they should be regional in nature, and a rigorous, adaptable monitoring program should be built into each project. Lastly, all projects should be fully vetted by the public. This disaster affected Gulf Coast citizens at a very local level, and they should have a voice in the restoration process.

When we think about how to restore the Gulf, many folks would imagine rebuilding oyster reefs or replanting marsh grass. These activities are tangible and near the shore. But, when we try to picture deep-water restoration, the picture gets a little fuzzy. How does one even begin to restore this mysterious place? In order to answer this question Ocean Conservancy convened experts from around the Gulf Coast to identify projects that would restore the marine environment. A critical piece of the restoration puzzle, a comprehensive Gulf of Mexico marine habitat map, was among restoration options identified. Mapping the Gulf would tell us what type of habitats exist, and where, as well as what condition they are in at this time. It would also provide a tool that allows scientists to more accurately study the abundance and health of fish populations, and provide fishery managers the information needed to better sustain a healthy fishing industry. It’s a unique project, building knowledge rather than habitat. The BP disaster brought to light the unfortunate lack of baseline scientific information we have on the Gulf’s ecosystem. In order to restore what was lost, we must first know what was there. Without good scientific data and a good understanding of both the species and their habitats, restoration efforts are not complete.

The challenge at hand is restoring an ecosystem so precious to us and our way of life. Gulf restoration is personal to those who call the Gulf home. Each day, I’m reminded of the magnitude of this task before us. We have one chance to get this right. When I look back 25 years from now at what has been accomplished, I hope I look back with satisfaction at a course well charted.

That’s why we’re asking BP to do their part. They’ve spent almost four years and millions in ad buys telling us they’d take responsibility for the disaster. And what we’re asking is simple: BP, put your money where your mouth is, keep your promise and make things right in the Gulf. Take action today!

To read the first part of this series, please click here.

]]> 9
New Study Shows Dolphins are Struggling to Recover from BP Oil Disaster Wed, 18 Dec 2013 20:33:41 +0000 Alexis Baldera

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.

Nearly half of the dolphins were given an uncertain or worse prognosis, which means that many of the dolphins are not expected to survive. The authors of the study determined that “many disease conditions observed in Barataria Bay dolphins are uncommon but consistent with petroleum hydrocarbon exposure and toxicity.”

The results of this study are troubling because the Gulf dolphin population in Barataria Bay is about 1,000 animals, and the death of even a small number of dolphins may have a serious effect on this local population. The dolphins in Barataria Bay and other areas of the northern Gulf have been dying in unusually high numbers since February 2010. Scientists are working to determine the cause of this unusual mortality event and how it may relate to the BP oil disaster.

The coastal marshes surrounding Barataria Bay still contain oil from the disaster. Tar mats and tar balls containing BP oil continue to wash up on Gulf beaches following extreme storms, such as Tropical Storm Karen in October and Hurricane Isaac last year.

Ocean Conservancy believes that funding for long-term research and monitoring is critical to determine the full injury of the BP oil disaster and to track the recovery of dolphins and other Gulf natural resources. In order to begin recovery for these and other dolphins, we can respond quicker to stranded animals by enhancing capabilities of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We can also use new technologies, such as high definition video surveys, to track and monitor wild dolphin populations. We have an opportunity to accelerate the recovery of dolphins affected by the oil spill by implementing these activities with a portion of the $1 billion down payment that BP has made for early restoration.

]]> 40
The New Gulf of Mexico Disaster Imperative: Scientific Baselines and Long-term Monitoring Tue, 17 Dec 2013 18:29:07 +0000 Matt Love

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.

With these interviews, we aim to drive home the urgent need for more research, such as that being carried out by Dr. John Incardona. An ecotoxicologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Dr. Incardona has identified the chemicals in crude oil that cause deformed hearts in developing fish and hold the potential to devastate entire local populations of fish.

The blog series, which will include information on new research and insights into the lives of young Gulf sea turtles and migrating Northern gannets found in the Deepwater Horizon pollution zone, will also underscore the benefit of sustained, long-term ecosystem monitoring in the Gulf.

These interviews point to the tools and additional baseline research needed to meet the growing imperative to do more – much more – science in the Gulf.

We need to understand what we know and what we don’t know if we hope to better manage the marine environment. And we need to know this now.

The fines from BP and other responsible parties are now beginning to flow to the Gulf region. This money gives us a major opportunity to immediately invest in this missing science and to create the scientific monitoring programs that will enable local communities, state and federal regulators, and anyone who depends on the Gulf economy to join in more effectively managing and protecting this unique resource.

Establishing a scientific baseline for a healthy ecology in the Gulf is not only essential to recovery, it will also support and enhance our response to any future ecological threats and disasters.

Even in the absence of disaster, the return on our investment in a scientific baseline will be immense. We will know with greater certainty when the Gulf is merely surviving and when it is thriving.

More from This Blog Series:

]]> 0
Whales Stranded In the Everglades as Response Budgets Dwindle Thu, 12 Dec 2013 02:46:24 +0000 Libby Fetherston

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.

This is a timely reminder of how important a marine mammal stranding network is to response and rehabilitation of dolphins and whales, as well as to gather data to understand the cause of strandings and prevent them in the future. Stranding networks train local organizations in all coastal U.S. states to respond to marine mammals (and sea turtles, too) that strand themselves as a way to ensure a quick response. This activity is traditionally coordinated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but the grant funding necessary for the program has seen dramatic cuts in recent years. In fact, the 2014 government budget request has no money slated for this important activity.

Marine mammal stranding networks need funding now more than ever. Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010, unusually high numbers of dolphins have stranded in places like Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, and we have dwindling resources to provide an adequate response. The latest information from the government’s investigation into oil spill impacts suggests thousands of marine mammals were exposed to oil form the BP disaster. Time and science may tell if this latest stranding in the Everglades is directly or indirectly due to the oil and dispersants that covered a large part of the pilot whales’ home waters.

Until then, we must ensure that restoration dollars are used to expand and enhance the response efforts of marine mammal stranding network partners in the Gulf. Ocean Conservancy is working to do just that. We encourage the Natural Resource Trustee agencies to use a portion of the $1 billion BP committed as a down payment toward oil spill restoration and fund a restoration project that would enhance the capabilities of wildlife rescue centers across the Gulf. These much-needed resources would enable marine mammal responders to act quicker and more efficiently to recover and rehabilitate stranded animals. You can help us turn this restoration project into a reality; stay tuned for future opportunities to get involved in our Gulf restoration efforts.

]]> 1