"With more than 400 fish and wildlife species relying on the Gulf Coast for food, cover, and breeding areas, the BP Oil Spill threatens the survival of marine and terrestrial species not only now, but in the long term as well.
Similar to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, populations of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, birds and other wildlife that depend on coastal habitat may not recover, even decades later."
How Oil Impacts Wildlife
Last Updated July 28, 2010
Dead Mammals: 64
Oiled but alive: 5
Cleaned and released: 1
Dead Birds: 2980
Oiled but alive: 1,504
Cleaned and released: 557
Dead Sea Turtles: 492
Oiled but alive: 253
Cleaned and released: 19
Note: These are the consolidated numbers of collected fish and wildlife that have been reported to the Unified Area Command from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), incident area commands, rehabilitation centers and other authorized sources operating within the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident impact area.
At this phase in the response, field-level staff will document all injured or dead fish and wildlife encountered in the impact area. These numbers reflect only the initial, field-level, evaluation and do not reflect a final determination of the cause of injury, or death. Not all of the injured or dead fish and wildlife reflected in these numbers were necessarily caused by the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident. Official designations of cause of death will be determined at a later date.
Also keep in mind these number to not reflect the casualties that BP burned or discarded.
"When oil is spilled or leaked into in waterways and the ocean, it spreads very quickly with the help of wind and currents. A single gallon of oil can create an oil slick up to a couple of acres in size! The BP oil slick had spread over 580 square miles in just three days.
When oil starts mixing in water, it can change composition and becomes what's known as "mousse". This is a sticky substance that clings even more to whatever it comes in contact with. Many marine animals don't know to avoid a slick and some fish may even be attracted to it as it can resemble food.
Some of the many effects on animals coming into contact with crude oil include:
- hypothermia and drowning of birds as the oil breaks down the insulating capabilities of feathers, makes them heavier and compromises flying ability
- if oil is ingested, it can either poison the animal outright, make them extremely sick or create a level of toxins in their system that then causes poisoning further up the food chain. Birds and other animals often ingest oil when trying to clean themselves. Shellfish and corals are particularly at risk in these scenarios as they cannot escape from an oil slick.
- damage to the airways of birds and animals.
- damage to animal immune systems
- interruption of breeding and fouling of breeding grounds
- thinner bird and turtle egg shells and also damage to fish larvae, causing deformities
- damage to sea grass beds and other shelter/feeding areas
- tainting of algae, which perform a vital role in waterway ecosystems
Even once the oil appears to have dissipated, it can still lurk beneath the surface of beaches and the sea bed, severely affecting marine organisms that burrow, such as crabs, for literally decades. These burrowing creatures are also food for other animals, so the cycle of poisoning continues for many years.
There's really no aspect of a marine and coastal environment that is not in some way adversely affected by an oil spill. The closer the spill occurs to the shoreline, the more pronounced the damage will be due to coastal zones being home to more concentrated and diverse populations of marine, bird and animal life than far out to sea."
Long-Term Environmental Effects of BP Oil Spill Unclear
"As oil from the gigantic spill in the Gulf of Mexico reaches U.S. beaches, scientists warn that the potential long-term effects of the massive disaster are hard to gauge -- but potentially disastrous for some local species.
The Exxon Valdez disaster is a similar and telling example. Among the worst oil spills ever, the tanker dumped more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound in March 1989. Two decades later, there are still an estimated 21,000 gallons of that oil just below the surface.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently dug 9,000 holes over hundreds of miles of shoreline to ascertain just how much oil was still hanging around. NOAA found Valdez oil in about half of those holes.
"Despite spending $2 billion dollars and using every known clean-up method there was, they recovered 8 percent of the spilled Exxon Valdez oil," Jeffrey Short, Pacific science director for Washington, D.C. conservation organization Oceana told LiveScience. "That is typical of these exercises when you have a large marine oil spill. You're doing really great if you [get] 20 percent."
Yet despite the lingering oil, many local species recovered: 10 recovered completely, 19 are still recovering, and only two never came back, including the local herring.
Scientists at the University of California-Davis, which manages California's Oiled Wildlife Care Network, point out that should the oil hit shore, it could have a serious, long-term impact on marine seabirds, such as brown pelicans. The Mississippi Flyway is a critical thoroughfare for migratory birds, and is now experiencing its peak migratory period, said Michael Ziccardi, an associate professor of clinical wildlife health at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
Data is limited on the long term effects of oil on wildlife, but Ziccardi pointed out that after the Valdez disaster, two killer whale pods lost approximately 40 percent of their numbers. Since that time, the reproductive capacity of these pods has been reduced by the loss of females, and only about half of newborn calves are surviving.
George Crozier, executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, worried about the potential long term effect on coastal marsh lands as well.
"If they let it come into the passes, and if they don't protect the marshes, it will cause long-term economic loss for years, because there's no way to clean it," he said. "They can talk about spraying micro-organisms on the marsh that may help it recover a little faster, but you can't spray grass beds and oyster reefs."
"It's an accepted fact that the marshes of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- the Fertile Crescent -- produce 90 percent of the seafood in the Gulf of Mexico," Crozier told the Mississippi Press. "If you were to pave that over with an oil spill, you'd see a dramatic drop in seafood recruitment, possibly for years to come."
As authorities and BP work frantically to clear up the oil and prevent further from leaking, the question of how long it will remain in the environment becomes a factor in determining the oil's long-term effect. Oil that doesn't get skimmed up or burned off disperses naturally, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Mendenhall. He told LiveScience that "It eventually breaks up and evaporates. There are different ways, but we're told it just kind of goes away."
The rate of dispersal depends on the type of oil. Initial reports suggested the oil leaking into the Gulf was standard Louisiana crude, which biodegrades pretty well, according to Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University. But sample testing revealed that the leaking oil was different, with a very high concentration of components that don't degrade easily, called asphaltenes.
"That is bad, bad news, because this oil is going to be very slow to degrade," Overton said."
Sinking oil isn't just threatening marine life. It could also threaten the Gulf of Mexico's barnacled history, something many call a treasure seeker's paradise.
Far beneath the surface of the Gulf, it's an underwater history book full of old shipwrecks.
A sunken Russian freighter sits in 85 feet of water off the coast of Pensacola.
The Mica, a 200-year-old schooner, sank in the mid-1800's in the central gulf, south of louisiana.
The Mardi Gras wreck, dating back to the war of 1812, was just discovered off Louisiana's coast in 2002.
"In Louisiana alone, there are 300 yrs of maritime history, scattered across the bottom of inland rivers, bayous to well offshore," says John Rawls, a marine archaeologist with Earth Search, Inc.
He says right now the big concern about the oil spill in the gulf from an archaological standpoint is the unknown.
"We really don't know the long term effect petrochemical will have on our cultural resources."
Ironically, some of the shipwrecks in the gulf, like a german u-boat sunk in world war two , were discovered as surveyers scoured the depths, ahead of big oil company projects.
The tedious task of examining those wrecks for oil damage has yet to begin.
Rawls says crews are assessing site locations, but that's the extent of it.
He says, "I don't foresee any in-depth work until the current situation is stopped so they can really assess it."
Shipwrecks, while valuable pieces of maritime history, are just as valuable to marine life today.
"Wrecks become reefs, just like the oil rigs...We dive a beautiful wreck off the coast of Destin.. The Miss Louise. It's teaming with fish, and sometimes it's hard to see our diving students because of the fish population," sasy Sunday Delger, owner of the Caribbean Dive shop in Metairie..
Her business has already taken a big hit as a result of the oil spill disaster.
She's had to cancel 8 trips that had full boats of 24 divers going out into the Gulf.
It pains her to think about the impact the contamination is having on her underwater playground.
Afterall, a shipwreck without growth on it isn't a reef. And without reefs, you won't find fish.
They are underwater treasures - whether alive today or dating back hundreds of years at risk more than ever.
And they could be off limits for years to come.
Archaeologists say shipwreck sites closer to shore could also be at risk because of increased boat traffic as well as dredging and cleanup operations.
For The Latest Oil Spill Headlines Follow us on FACEBOOK
"The collision of a tropical storm OR HURRICANE with a giant oil spill is an unprecedented event, that experts predicted could have both positive and negative impacts.
"It might actually be good for cleansing the system but in other circumstances it might cause even more problems if it blows a lot of the oil directly onshore," Chuck Kennicutt, an oceanography professor at Texas A&M University said in a Reuters report.
A storm's intense wave action can accelerate the natural process of breaking down the oil, causing it to evaporate or coagulate into emulsified tarballs, Kennicutt said.
But a storm's natural tidal surge could pound the oil into fragile marshes and bayous, where they will be difficult to clean up, he said.
"We're pretty much in unknown territory here," he said.
Kennicutt's assessment was echoed by the top US oil spill official today.
"I think there is a good part and a bad part to that," retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said, referring to the storm.
"Sometimes the increased action on the surface can actually help with the emulsification of the oil and the distribution and biodegradation," Allen said.
"On the other hand you have the chance that a storm surge can drive that up into the beach and marshes, where it would not have been driven otherwise."
High winds and waves could displace hundreds of miles of floating plastic boom placed around the most sensitive beaches and wetlands, including key bird habitats.... like the reddish egret and the black skimmer."
OR worse.... The storm could potentially push the oil deep into the water making it visibly disappear. Lakes of oil could float unseen under the surface and take days to months to re-surface.
The effect on sea life of the large amounts of oil that dissolved below the surface is still a mystery. Two preliminary government reports on that issue have found concentrations of toxic compounds in the deep sea to be low, but the reports left many questions, especially about an apparent decline in oxygen levels in the water.
And understanding the effects of the spill on the shorelines that were hit, including Louisiana's coastal marshes, is expected to occupy scientists for years. Fishermen along the coast are skeptical of any declarations of success, expressing concern about the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants used to combat the spill and of the submerged oil, particularly on shrimp and crab larvae that are the foundation of future fishing seasons.
"Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn't oil beneath the surface, however, or that our beaches and marshes are not still at risk," Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a briefing Tuesday. "We are extremely concerned about the short-term and long-term impacts to the Gulf ecosystem."The scientific picture of what has happened at the bottom of the Gulf remains murky.
[PDF] Most oil spill response strategies, tactics, and equipment are based on the simple principle that oil floats. However, oil does not always float. Sometimes it suspends in the water column; sometimes it sinks to the seafloor. Sometimes it does all three: floats, suspends, and sinks. Furthermore, oil that has sunk to the seafloor can become re-suspended and spread by currents. Terminology to describe these various behaviors can be confusing. The NRC (1999) used the
term “nonfloating oil” in the report Spills of Nonfloating Oils: Risk and Response, but its vagueness has caused some consternation. The term “submerged oil” is used in this report to describe any oil that is not floating at or near the surface. Thus, it should not be confused with oil that has become temporarily submerged by wave action, which should be called “overwashed oil.”
There are several types of submerged oil. Submerged oil can be suspended in the water, either throughout the water column or just above the bottom. Sunken oil is appropriate to describe the accumulation of bulk oil on the seafloor. Sunken oil can, and often will, contain some sediment, but it is described more as sediment-contaminated oil rather than oil-contaminated sediments. Oil becomes submerged when the density of the oil is greater than the density of the receiving water. The “oil” can be any combination of petroleum products, water, and sediments. Figure 1 shows this relationship. In full-strength seawater with a salinity of 35 parts per thousand, oil with an API gravity above 6.5 will still be lighter than the seawater and is likely to float. Very few crude oils or refined products (other than asphalt) are this heavy, although the amounts of very heavy refined products are increasing as refineries modify their processes to produce as much gasoline as possible out of each barrel of oil. Michel (2006) summarized 26 oil spill cases where the oil became submerged. In thirteen of these cases, the initial density of the oil was higher than the receiving waters and the oil submerged shortly after release; of these, eight were spills to fresh water and five were spills to seawater.
It is important to note that for half of the cases discussed by Michel (2006), the oil initially
floated then became submerged, mostly after picking up sand. Thus, a floating oil can become heavier than the receiving water by either of two processes: 1) stranding on a sedimentary shoreline, picking up sand, then being eroded from the shoreline; or 2) by mixing with sand suspended in the water column by wave action (Michel and Galt, 1995). In either case, depending on the amount of sediment mixed into the oil, the oil-sediment mixture can become slightly negatively buoyant and become suspended in the water column by currents, or it can be dense enough to sink to the bottom. It is important to note that, in these cases, the oil itself is still buoyant and, if the oil separates from the sediment, it can refloat, as happened at the T/B Morris J. Berman spill in Puerto Rico (Burns et al., 1995).
Currents are another key factor in determining the behavior of submerged oil, both initially and over time. In strong currents, the oil can remain suspended in the water column and transported over long distances, as in the case of several spills of denser-than-water oil into the Mississippi River and Puget Sound (Weems et al., 1997; Yaroch and Reiter, 1989). If currents are weak, the oil can settle to the bottom, as did the T/B DBL-152 (Michel, 2006).
One thing is clear... submerged oil poses many response challenges. Submerged oil is very difficult to detect, both when it is suspended in the water and sunk to the seafloor. Oil suspended in the water column and moving with the currents is difficult to track using standard visual survey methods. Oil that has accumulated on the seafloor can be mobilized by changing bottom energy resulting from events such as floods and storms. Trajectory models traditionally used to predict floating oil movements and fate are not applicable to submerged oil. Weathering processes of submerged oil are slow and poorly understood, so it is difficult to assess the ultimate fate of the oil. There are no proven methods for containment of submerged oil, and methods for recovery of submerged oil have limited effectiveness. With low recovery rates and slow natural weathering processes, it becomes even more important to understand the short- and
long-term effects of submerged oil that remains in the environment.
Water pollution not only affects the wildlife at the location of the pollutants presence but with the earth's natural heating and cooling the pollution is spread to distant locations globally through acid rain.
BP’s oil spill-fighting dispersant of choice is Corexit 9500. It has been banned in Europe for good reason. Corexit 9500 is one of the most environmentally enduring, toxic chemical dispersants ever created to battle an oil spill. Add to that the millions of gallons of oil that have been burned, releasing even more toxins into the atmosphere, and you have a recipe for something much worse than acid rain.
As the water in the Gulf of Mexico heats up, Corexit 9500 goes through a molecular transition. It changes from a liquid to a gas, which is readily absorbed by clouds and released as toxic rain. The chemical-laden rain then falls on crops, reservoirs, animals and of course, people.
"Acid rain, or more accurately acid precipitation, is the term used for describing rainfall with a pH level lower than 5.6. This type of pollution is a matter of great debate currently due to the potential of its causing environmental damages all across the world. For the last decade or so acid rain has caused destruction to hundreds of lakes and streams in many parts of the world, including the US, Canada, and Europe. Acid rain forms due to the oxides of sulfite and nitrogen combining with the moisture contained in the atmosphere, resulting in the formation of sulfuric and nitric acids. These acids can be dispersed far away from their places of origin.
What are the Causes of Acid Rain?
The oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, and sulfur dioxide, or SO2, are the two main sources of acid rain. Sulfur dioxide, which is a colorless gas, is given off as a by-product when fossil fuels that contain sulfur are burned. This gas is produced due to various industrial processes, like the processing of crude oil, utility factories, and iron and steel factories. Natural means and disaster can also result in sulfur dioxide being released into the atmosphere, such as rotting vegetation, plankton, sea spray, and volcanoes, all of which emit about 10% sulfur dioxide. On the whole, industrial combustion is responsible for 69.4% sulfur dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, and vehicular transportation is responsible for about 3.7%.
Nitrogen oxide is the other chemical that acid rain is made up of. Any nitrogen compound that contains oxygen atoms of any amount is known as oxides of nitrogen. For example, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen monoxide are oxides of nitrogen. These gases are produced in firing processes which involve extremely high temperatures, e.g., utility plants and automobiles, as well as in chemical industries, such as in the production of fertilizers. Five percent of nitrogen oxide is emitted by natural processes like lightning, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and action of bacteria in the soil. Industrial processes emit 32% and vehicular transportation is responsible for 43%.
Nitrogen oxide, which is a dangerous gas in itself, causes damage to the respiratory organs by attacking the membranes in them, thus increasing the chances of respiratory diseases. It also causes smog and is a contributory factor for the damage of the ozone layer in the atmosphere. When there is acid rain, the nitrogen oxide can be carried far away from the original location of the rain.
What are the Effects of Acid Rain?
Effects of acid rain on plant life: Acid rain seeps into the earth and poisons plants and trees by dissolving toxic substances in the soil, such as aluminum, which get absorbed by the roots. Acid rain also dissolves the beneficial minerals and nutrients in the soil, which are then washed away before the plants and trees have a chance of using them in order to grow.
When there is frequent acid rain, it corrodes the waxy protective coating of the leaves. When this protective coating on the leaves is lost, it results in making the plant susceptible to disease. When the leaves are damaged, the plant loses its ability to produce sufficient amounts of nutrition for it to stay healthy. Once weakened, the plant becomes vulnerable to the cold weather, insects, and disease, which can lead to its death.
Effects of acid rain on aquatic life: Apart from plants, acid rain also affects aquatic organisms adversely. A high amount of sulfuric acid interferes with the ability of fish to take in nutrients, salt, and oxygen. As far as freshwater fish is concerned, in order for them to stay alive they need to have the ability of maintaining a balance between the minerals and salts in their tissues. The molecules of acid result in mucus forming in their gills, which prevents them from absorbing oxygen in adequate amounts. Plus, the acidity, which reduces the pH level, causes the imbalance of salt in the tissues of fish.
Moreover, this change in the pH level also impairs the some of the fish’s ability to maintain their calcium levels. This impairs reproduction the ability of the fish, because the eggs become to weak or brittle. Lack of calcium also causes deformed bones and weakened spines.
Effects of acid rain on man-made objects: Apart from causing harm to natural ecosystems, acid rain also damages man-made structures and materials. For example, acid rain dissolves sandstone, limestone, and marble. It also corrodes ceramic, textiles, paints, and metals. Rubber and leather deteriorate if exposed to acid rain. Stone monuments and carvings begin losing their features when exposed to acid rain.
Effects of acid rain on humans: Most of all, acid rain affects human health adversely. It has the ability of harming us via the atmosphere as well as the soil where the food we eat is grown. Acid rain results in toxic metals breaking loose from the chemical compounds they occur in naturally. While toxic metals may be dangerous, but as long as they exist in combination with other elements, they are not harmful. Once acid rain causes these toxic metals to be released they can infiltrate into the drinking water, and the animals or crops that humans use as sources of food. This contaminated food can damage the nerves in children, or result in severe brain damage, or even death. Scientists suspect that aluminum, one of the toxic metals affected by acid rain, is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Another adverse health effect of acid rain on humans is the respiratory problems it causes. The emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide cause respiratory problems like throat, nose and eye irritation; headache; asthma; and dry coughs. Acid rain is particularly harmful for those who have difficulty in breathing or suffer from asthma. In fact, even the lungs of healthy people can be damaged by the pollutants in acid air."
Near the spill site, researchers have documented a massive die-off of pyrosomes - cucumber-shaped, gelatinous organisms fed on by endangered sea turtles.
And at the base of the food web, tiny organisms that consume oil and gas are proliferating.
If such impacts continue, the scientists warn of a grim reshuffling of sealife that could over time cascade through the ecosystem and imperil the region's multibillion-dollar fishing industry.
Federal wildlife officials say the impacts are not irreversible, and no tainted
"You change the base of the food web, it's going to ripple through the entire food web," said marine scientist Rob Condon, who found oil-loving bacteria off the Alabama coastline, more than 90 miles from BP's collapsed Deepwater Horizon drill rig. "Ultimately it's going to impact fishing and introduce a lot of contaminants into the food web."
The food web is the fundamental fabric of life in the Gulf. Once referred to as the food chain, the updated term reflects the cyclical nature of a process in which even the largest predator becomes a food source as it dies and decomposes.
What has emerged from research done to date are snapshots of disruption across a swath of the northern Gulf of Mexico. It stretches from the 5,000-feet deep waters at the spill site to the continental shelf off Alabama and the shallow coastal marshes of Louisiana.Much of the spill - estimated at up to 176 million gallons of oil and almost 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas - was broken into small droplets by chemical dispersants at the site of the leaking well head. That reduced the direct impact to the shoreline and kept much of the oil and natural gas suspended in the water.
(CNN) As cleanup workers burn off oil from BP’s ruined Deepwater Horizon well, the black clouds of smoke soaring skyward are carrying questions about health risks, along with a thick helping of soot, volatile gases and other toxic byproducts.
The most immediate risk is to cleanup workers or others in proximity to the burn, according to Dr. Phil Harber, head of the division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
However, depending on the eventual scope of the burn, and length of the cleanup effort, others on shore could be affected, says Harber. “People with asthma, or who are very young, or who have cardiac disease, are much more likely to be sensitive the released pollutants.”
Federal officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Agency have issued a memorandum insisting on proper safety equipment and training for all cleanup workers. When reached by CNN, spokespeople for two companies helping with the effort – Global Industries, and Boots and Coots - would not say if workers were taking special precautions to protect against the smoke.
More than 12,600 workers are helping with the overall cleanup effort, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The black cloud is largely made up of small particles that can lodge deep in the lungs. It also contains gases such as sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, and volatile compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which at high exposures are considered a trigger for cancer, says Harber.
Of course, because of the volatile compounds it gives off, the spilled oil poses some health risk, simply sitting on the surface. OSHA has been monitoring air in the main clean up area, and posting some results on its website. The Environmental Protection Agency also has air monitoring stations around the Gulf, with results posted on this website. According to data posted on June 15, the EPA says that air-quality levels for ozone and particulates on the Gulf coastline are no different from usual, for this time of year.
However, the gases swirling around the spill do seem to be having at least some health effect. Hospitals have reported several dozen cleanup workers who complained of symptoms including headaches, nausea and dizziness.
Long-term, the potential impact is unclear. John Howard, director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, told a congressional panel Wednesday, “We have very scant information, in general, about oil spills.”
At the end of the day the mental and emotional health repercussions of this disaster will be the most salient. Mental and emotional problems seem to surface wherever the Black Wave appears. As the social fabric slowly tears, so do the many support systems upon which we all rely weaken, especially during these already quite challenging times.
Most of these psychological maladies are directly related to loss. Loss of job, loss of business, and loss of financial security are some examples. So are loss of health, loss of relationships, and loss of access to the beach. We also see loss of home, loss of a way of life and loss of traditional foods. Fisherman can no longer go out in their boats; beachgoers forgo their morning shelling routine; joggers take to the pavement instead of the sand.
There are numerous symptoms, ailments and illnesses that are the direct result of exposure to an oil spill which can be gleaned from various sources. Some of these resources have been provided by organizations that have been directly involved with oil spill mitigation and remediation. In some cases they have been able to closely follow the development of disease in any given population, which was exposed to many of the same chemical contaminants that are found at different oil spill sites throughout the world.