The Blog Aquatic

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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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My Personal Journey from Despair to Hope Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster (Part 1)

Posted On April 17, 2014 by

Kara Lankford flies in a Black Hawk helicopter to assess damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Four summers ago, I was in a Black Hawk helicopter overlooking the Alabama beaches, helplessly watching oil roll in from the spill on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. I was working as a natural resource planner for Baldwin County on the Alabama Gulf Coast when Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the first reports of the tragic loss of life stopped me in my tracks. As the days went on, it was evident that this was not only a human tragedy but also a serious environmental disaster. As the oil continued to gush from the well, oil projection maps were published daily, and each day the oil grew closer to the Alabama coast. Suddenly this place where I had spent so many happy days was about to change, and change dramatically.

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Victory for Baby Sea Turtles

Posted On April 9, 2014 by

Photo: Ellen Splain

In December, we told you about the launch of an exciting new pilot program called Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership. The program helps endangered sea turtles to thrive in the Atlantic, around the coast of Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

During the four month pilot project, volunteers in Wrightsville, N.C. cataloged and removed trash from the beaches that serve as critical nesting habitat for sea turtles. Turtle volunteers removed a total of 7,209 items of trash across six sea turtle nesting zones. The information they collect helps us to better understand the threats faced by sea turtle hatchlings in order to help come up with solutions that will help them survive.

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Interview: The Unfolding Story of BP Disaster’s Impact on Gulf Shrimp

Posted On March 13, 2014 by

Dr. Kim de Mutsert deploys a shrimp trawl to collect samples. [Photo: B. Bachman]

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

Shrimp are not just an integral part of the Gulf Coast’s culture and cuisine, but they are also a pillar of its economy. The impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to this iconic animal are a great concern. Drs. Kim de Mutsert and Joris L. van der Ham of George Mason University study the oil’s effects on white and brown shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico. De Mutsert specializes in applied fish ecology, estuarine ecology and ecosystem modeling, including the effects of coastal restoration scenarios on fish, shrimp and oysters in Louisiana. Van der Ham, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at Louisiana State University, is an invertebrate zoologist who has investigated the effects of the BP disaster on inshore shrimp populations. We interviewed them about their research and what more needs to be done.

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Scientists Discover How BP Oil Affects Tuna Hearts

Posted On February 24, 2014 by

Photo: NOAA

During the spring and summer of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was an unprecedented amount of toxic material discharged into the Gulf, and scientists have been researching its impacts on marine and coastal wildlife ever since. One of the species of concern is the imperiled Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was spawning at the time and location of the BP disaster.

In a new study, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that crude oil, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disrupts the cellular pathway that allows juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tuna heart cells to beat effectively. This causes a slowed heart rate, reduced ability of muscular heart tissue to contract, and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Crude oil is known to be toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. But until now, the details of how crude oil harmed fish hearts were unclear.

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Interview: Dr. Blair Witherington on Oil’s Impact on Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On December 23, 2013 by

Dr. Witherington with an oiled Kemp’s ridley turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.

(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)

A research scientist with more than 24 years of experience in sea turtle biology and conservation, Dr. Blair Witherington has worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute since 1992. He is also an adjunct assistant professor, department of zoology, University of Florida; served as president of the 20th International Sea Turtle Symposium; and is vice chair of the Northwest Atlantic region of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. He has authored or contributed to more than 40 scientific articles, monographs and book chapters. In addition, he has written five books on sea turtles and other natural history subjects.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster had an immediate and particularly harmful effect on early juvenile sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The worst marine oil spill in history also served to highlight a compelling need for assessments of open-sea habitats – research critically lacking in 2010, yet essential for conservation efforts and restoration planning.

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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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