Have you seen the BP commercials about the company taking responsibility for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history? I for one usually see at least one every week. That’s because for the past three years, the company has spent hundreds of millions on advertising trying to clean up their image. But unfortunately, BP hasn’t been as diligent about spending money to actually clean up the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster they claim to be taking responsibility for.
Even as their advertisements continue to run on air, BP is now fighting its own settlement and refusing to provide much-needed funding to the people impacted by the disaster and to restoration efforts critical to bring back the health of Gulf ecosystems and marine life.
Why? Because BP claims that the people who lost their jobs and their way of life are trying to scam the company. This despite the fact that while BP makes about $4 billion in profit every three months, many people who lost their livelihoods have waited more than three years to receive compensation for their losses.
Instead of taking responsibility for the oil disaster in the Gulf and all of the repercussions to the people and wildlife who call the Gulf region home, BP is going out of its way to shirk responsibility for paying economic claims they already agreed to in court.
A scientist measures a juvenile tiger shark during a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
More than 70 species of shark occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Of those, we catch over a dozen large and small coastal species during the bottom longline population survey I’m participating in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here are five of the species we commonly spot:
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark This small shark is the most commonly caught species during our survey because it is ubiquitous in this region. In the right depths, it is not uncommon for us to catch around 50 of these small sharks per set of 100 hooks.
Population status: Due to their abundance in the western North Atlantic, their population status is not considered to be of great concern. Apart from humans, Atlantic sharpnose sharks also have other, larger sharks to fear as predators.
Hammerhead shark caught for a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
While most people out on the water are trying to avoid sharks, I’m on a boat that’s looking for them. We’re trying to find out which shark species are doing well and which ones are in trouble.
The answer: it’s complicated. But one important piece of evidence is the information collected on scientific surveys of population abundance, like the one I’m on right now.
It’s my third year as a volunteer on the science crew with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I am currently on the NOAA ship OREGON II, a 170-foot research vessel with its home port in Pascagoula, Miss.
This is the first leg of the annual shark and red snapper bottom longline survey. The survey is conducted in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico from South Texas to the Florida Keys and along the East Coast up to Cape Hatteras, N.C. That’s a total of four legs lasting two weeks each.
Imagine if all of the animals throughout the entire state of Connecticut left or died. This is what happens every year in the Gulf of Mexico. The size of the dead zone varies—sometimes it’s as big as New Jersey or only the size of Rhode Island, but the problem always persists.
Researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium just spent a week measuring dissolved oxygen concentrations off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas to determine how big the dead zone is this year. And they found that it is about 5,800 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.
This area is called “the dead zone” because dissolved oxygen levels are too low to support life. Animals that can move out of the area, like fish and shrimp, will leave, and animals that can’t, like brittle stars and mussels, will become stressed and eventually die.
The people of the Gulf are still suffering from this tragedy.
Three years ago, I found myself at a late-night community meeting on the coast in Alabama to discuss the oil disaster. At that point, oil was still spewing uncontrolled from the wellhead and huge portions of the Gulf were closed to fishing—meaning that thousands of people were out of a job and countless more were unable to enjoy doing the things they’d always taken for granted, like fishing, boating and swimming in the Gulf.
About an hour in, a broad-shouldered, weathered man stood up to discuss what this disaster meant for him. He explained that he made his living as a fisherman and now couldn’t afford to feed his family. As he talked, his voice began to break, and he struggled to keep talking through the tears. It was then that I knew this disaster was deeper than the sheen on the water; it was in the hearts of each Gulf resident.
UPDATE (July 17, 2013): Success! The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has voted to raise this year’s catch limit for red snapper from 8.46 to 11 million pounds due to the successful rebuilding of this iconic species. This action marks a historic moment in the management of the red snapper fishery, as catch levels are the highest they’ve been in 25 years.
It’s summer in the Gulf of Mexico, and another recreational red snapper fishing season has come and gone too quickly. Usually at this time of year, anglers and fishery managers are taking stock of what was caught in the short snapper opening and wondering what the limit will be next year. The answer will come sooner than usual.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is holding an emergency meeting this week to decide how many more red snapper can be caught this year. A science panel recently announced that an increase is possible, and now managers need to settle the questions of how much and by when?
The good news is that the red snapper population is on the rise and soon the catch limit will be too. The law governing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has rebuilt a record number of fish populations around the country, and red snapper is one of the most visible success stories.