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Entries in oil spill (12)

Monday
Apr282014

Tuna Possible Casualties from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

More bad news has surfaced about the long-term consequences from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the pollutant can cause severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

The 2010 spawning season coincided directly with the spill, meaning floating embryos were exposed to large surface slicks as oil gushed from the damaged wellhead.

“We know from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound that recently spawned fish are especially vulnerable to crude oil toxicity,” says Nat Scholz, head of the ecotoxicology program for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “That spill taught us to pay close attention to the formation and function of the heart.”

Scientists add that affected fish likely would have died soon after hatching. Additionally, scientists know from previous research that survivors of exposure to crude oil can suffer subtle and transient changes in heart rhythm during development. These changes can permanently impair heart function and swimming ability at later life stages.

“This creates a potential for delayed mortality,” says one scientist. “Swimming is everything for these species.

And evidence that the threat is still out there appeared last June, when a 40,000-pound (20 tons) tar mat was discovered in the surf off Grand Terre Island. Considered hazardous to marine life, the mat reportedly was made of up 15 percent oil and 85 percent sand, shells, and water.

Also, a report last spring revealed the damage done to dolphins, sea turtles, and killifish, a common forage fish at the base of the food web.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

All this is not to say that the fishing is not good along the coast and in the Gulf or that it will deteriorate in the next few years. The truth is that we just don’t know what the long-term consequences will be.

But evidence certainly suggests that fish and other wildlife immediately exposed to the crude oil were harmed and some species continue to be.  

That means we haven’t seen the end of this disaster. No one can legitimately declare that damages have been mitigated, or that our wildlife, marshes, barrier islands, and offshore habitat are “cleaned up.”

“It is crucial that impacted regions of the Gulf implement restoration projects that are based upon the best available science, and to spend every single dime of the penalty money from the spill wisely,” says NWF. “That is our priority. The Vanishing Paradise campaign is focused on these goals as we continue our work in all five of the Gulf states. In Louisiana, that means two things:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Louisiana State Master Plan
  • Ensuring the integrity of the financial mechanisms that fill the gaps between Plan-Funding- and Restoration

“The moral of the story is that the Gulf is still hurting, four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Recovery and restoration are far from complete.”

Tuesday
Feb182014

Exotics Take a Bite Out of Wetlands

Nutria photo from Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that other exotics also are doing severe damage. They don’t receive as much publicity because their range is more limited.

But in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

Additionally, the giant apple snail also is taking a giant bite out of the wetlands. They’ve been banned from the state since 2012, but that was too late to keep them from becoming a destructive force, courtesy of irresponsible hobbyists who dumped their aquariums into waterways.

“They eat a ton of plant material, anything they can get their tiny little mouths on,” said Michael Massimi of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “You are converting a water body from one dominated by plants to one dominated by algae.”

Asian carp, tiger prawns, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia also are among the exotic species doing damage to Louisiana’s coastal system.

Some limited good news is that the state’s nutria control plan, implemented in 2002, has lessened the impact of these furbearers, which were imported during the 1930s and promoted as a way to combat water hyacinth and other invasive plants during the 1940s.

Giant apple snails also are gobbling up wetlands.

Still the cumulative effect of these invaders is significant for an ecosystem already under siege. First came decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. These actions accelerated erosion and saltwater intrusion, which are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, which added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

Sadly, passing legislation and creating coalitions will do little to counter the damage already being done by established exotic species, including the nutria and giant apple snail.

But something could be done to lessen the likelihood of future harmful invasions in Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands, as well as other waterways nationwide. Congress needs to strengthen the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and trade of harmful species.

Here is how bad the problem is: Since the act’s implementation more than a century ago, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited, and that usually occurred long after they were imported, escaped into the wild, and started doing damage.

By modernizing the Lacey Act, Congress could empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade in the United States. The ineffectiveness of the current law is easily evidenced by Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, and giant apple snails joining nutria in gobbling up Louisiana’s wetlands.

Thursday
Jun062013

Rodent Invader Adds to Decline of Delta Wetlands

Photo from Greg Lasley Nature Photography

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that another exotic also is doing severe damage. It doesn’t receive as much publicity because its range is more limited.

But down in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

The good news is that damage has been lessened since Louisiana implemented a nutria control plan in 2002.

Still, this is one more blow to the Mississippi Delta, which already is under siege from decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. As a result, erosion and saltwater intrusion are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finagling the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

To learn more about Vanishing Paradise and its efforts, go here.

And to learn more about the nutria in Louisiana, go here.

Friday
Apr122013

Fish, Dolphins, Turtles Continue as Casualties of Oil Spill

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, consequences for fish and wildlife weren’t nearly as disastrous in the Gulf of Mexico as I feared they would be.  Still, they weren’t good.

And they still aren’t. No one is suggesting that the coastal states aren't open for tourism business or that the fishing isn't good, but some species still are being harmed.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster looks at how different species of wildlife across the northern Gulf are faring in the wake of the oil disaster:

  • Dolphin deaths in the area affected by oil have remained above average every month since just before the spill began. Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the dolphin die-off “unprecedented”—a year ago. While NOAA is keeping many elements of its dolphin research confidential pending the conclusion of the ongoing trial, the agency has ruled out the most common causes of previous dolphin die-offs.
  • More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012—the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.
  • A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.
  • Scientists found that the oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food web. A recent laboratory study found that oil exposure can also harm the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi. 

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ian MacDonald, professor of Oceanography at Florida State University.

“What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts. For example, we know that some important coral communities were damaged, but funding for the necessary follow up has not been there.”

The report’s release comes as BP and the other companies responsible for the disaster are on trial in federal court for violations of multiple environmental laws. The report describes different sources of restoration funding resulting from the disaster and provides initial suggestions for how this money can be used to improve the outlook for the species discussed in the report.

“Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” said David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program.

 “In 2012 six million pounds of tar mat and contaminated material from the BP spill were cleaned up from Louisiana’s coast. Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Other oil disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects, and often recovery remains incomplete after decades. To date, the disaster response has focused on removing the visible oil, but little has been done to tackle the region’s long-standing habitat degradation and water quality problems—issues that were exacerbated by the oil disaster.

“I’ve always considered myself truly fortunate to make a living fishing these waters,” said Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, a lodge and charter boat operation in Buras, Louisiana. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this ecosystem back on its feet, but we need to make sure we use the money from BP’s penalties on projects that will improve the health of the Gulf in the long run. That’s the best way to restore our economy, and it is the best way to make sure our children have the opportunity to enjoy this region as we have for decades.”

Friday
Nov162012

BP Funds to Benefit Gulf of Mexico Fish and Wildlife

About $2.4 billion of BP’s recent settlement agreement of $4.5 billion will go to benefit fish and wildlife habitats along the Gulf Coast. Those funds will be funneled through the National Fish And Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), an independent non-profit conservation groups chartered by Congress in 1984.

"Ducks Unlimited applauds the decision to direct a significant portion of the settlement funds to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation," DU CEO Dale Hall said.

"NFWF is the appropriate organization to manage these funds and determine how they can best be used to benefit Gulf Coast fish and wildlife and the people who depend on these resources for their livelihood and recreation. NFWF's role in managing these funds is good news for the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast."

Under this agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, BP pled guilty to several criminal charges for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which discharged an estimated 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,” said Bob Dudley, BP’s Group Chief Executive.

“From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolution with the U.S. government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions.”

The $4.5 billion settlement does not resolve penalties that could result from violations of the Clean Water Act. These penalties could range as high as $20 million if BP is found guilty of gross negligence.

To learn more, check out Ducks Unlimited and this BP press release.