Impact of Gulf Oil Spill on Environment

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, U.S. Gulf residents, animal advocacy groups, government environmental agencies, and journalists have speculated what the full effect of the oil gushing from the severed pipe would be. Within six weeks, we began to see the horrible scope of environmental damage that can be expected in the aftermath of the drawn out clean up of the disaster.

The oil began coming to shore in Louisiana and adjacent wetlands on April 30, 2010. Shrimping boats from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi rushed to save what they could of this season’s shellfish, losing their jobs, and possibly the Gulf coast industry, to the oil coming from the south (see PostGazette). The federal government and state regulatory agencies have closed most of the Louisiana coast to fishing, leaving shrimp, crab, and oysters a delicacy on the Gulf coast. In addition, Louisiana’s rescue center for oiled birds at Fort Jackson was seeing 1 or 2 birds a day for the first six weeks – that number jumped to 53 a day during the first week of June. The Brown Pelican, Lousiana’s state bird and an endangered species until November 2009, may also have lost its nesting grounds, and this year’s hatchlings, to the oil. It joins 12 other federally endangered species affected by the thick sludge in the water (information from CBS4, click here for pictures).

By June 4, 2010 the oil was washing up on Pensacola Beach on the Florida coast, with volunteers gathering to aid and clean animals in peril. Pictures have been released, taken by residents, local reporters, and the Associated Press, showing thick, oil coated birds, dead dolphins and sea turtles washing up on shore, dying marshland grass with roots coated in tar-like sludge, and shellfish like snails attempting to find clean water where they can breathe.

The number of affected of wildlife is still not at the level seen with the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska a decade ago because the ship spilled oil along a reef area where many creatures lived and the Deepwater Horizon was 50 miles out to sea. However, the underwater ecosystems of zooplankton, fish, and plants are hidden from scrutiny and may be more severely impacted than is currently known.

Another environmental impact of the oil spill is the affect of the oil on the land. Beaches once known for their pristine glimmer are now a reddish brown color. Sea shells are stained the same hue. The boardwalks at Gulf Shores, Alabama are said to be covered in tarry footprints from hotel guests walking back from checking out the oil coming ashore at the state park – the same oil staining the beaches, choking the plant life off from the sun, and endangering the wildlife.

The oil spill is expected to only worsen as BP, the oil company responsible for the rig at the time of the explosion, continues to attempt to cap off the gushing crude oil from almost a mile below sea level. Some efforts have reduced the amount spilling out of the pipe, but the oil in the water is expected to keep growing until relief wells are drilled in August 2010 or later.

The Gulf shore will not be the same for a very long time.