The Blog Aquatic

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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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New Projects Miss Opportunity to Jump Start Restoration in the Gulf

Posted On June 26, 2014 by

© Cheryl Gerber

Today marks another milestone in the process to restore the Gulf of Mexico. But, the news isn’t all positive.  We’ve been waiting four years now for BP to “make it right” for the Gulf and clean up the mess they made when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. We knew the process of determining how much damage BP had done, sending them the bill and restoring what was lost would take time. This process is known as the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), and even in the case of smaller-scale oil spills in the past, it has taken years to complete. Knowing that the full extent of damage in the Gulf could take years, even a decade or more, to document, BP and our Gulf leaders decided to speed up the recovery process—a decision that seemed to be a step in the right direction.

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800,000 and Counting: The Soaring Deepwater Horizon Bird Death Count

Posted On May 22, 2014 by


According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.

This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.

What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?

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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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