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?
This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.
We know there was a very significant increase in the number of marine mammal strandings observed following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael talks to Ocean Conservancy about her work to respond to strandings when they occur, collect data to better understand these strandings and put together public outreach programs to prevent them in the future.
A new study published last month reveals how the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster likely caused life-threatening heart deformities and irregular function in the fish embryos of yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, amberjack and swordfish.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like another study we reported on last month, then you’re right. A number of different studies have been conducted on fish hearts, and each of them is an important piece of the puzzle that scientists are assembling to understand the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
This latest study conducted by Dr. John Incardona and others clarifies how the oil from the BP oil disaster affects the embryos of large predatory fish living in the open ocean (or pelagic zone) of the Gulf of Mexico. Previous studies have determined that crude oil can be toxic or have delayed fatal effects on fish living in cold Arctic waters, such as pink salmon, or in warm freshwaters, such as zebrafish. We’ve also recently learned that Gulf killifish living in oiled areas of coastal Louisiana are suffering from deformed hearts and reduced chances of survival; another study helped us better understood the mechanism by which crude oil affects tuna hearts. Collectively, this research allowed scientists to make assumptions about how oil might affect fish living in the warm offshore waters of the Gulf.
Earlier, I wrote about coastal and marine spatial planning and the tools necessary to effectively implement it. Today though, I wanted to discuss the regions and industries that are already putting these ideas to good use.
At the state level, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island have already created comprehensive ocean plans, and several other states—such as New York and several states along the Gulf of Mexico—are starting to do the same thing. This is a great start, but the ocean does not obey state lines. As a result, regional partnerships are essential in facilitating coordination between federal, state, tribal and local entities.
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.
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.