BP (Beyond Petroleum) oil spill is today called the worst ever environmental disaster to occur in the United States. The largest oil spill recorded was the Exxon valdez off the coast of Alaska in 1989 which released about 11 million gallons of oil into the sea but the BP spill by far out competes it. While BP personnel has estimated the average oil spill to be 5000 barrels a day, other estimates (USGS) go beyond 10 000 barrels a day some even hinting at 25000 barrels a day.
The Gulf of Mexico is a rich biodiversity area and the spill has affected all marine organisms from fish to birds. The mass release of oil incapacitates animals by preventing movements which can lead to death (birds covered in oil slick). Oil also contains many components which when ingested by the marine organisms can bioaccumulate (which means that the toxic materials concentrate in their tissues); when other animals eat those affected organisms, the toxic materials accumulate in their bodies too but at a higher concentration (biomagnification) which can prove to be lethal in the long run. Moreover, because water is in constant motion the spill does not stay in one particular area as it has been seen to cover the coasts of Lousiana, Alabama, Texas, Missouri and Florida. More importantly is that failure to stop the leak can lead to more oil gushing out thus covering a larger surface area and affecting more organisms.
The gulf contains many habitats as wetlands, seagrass beds, coral reefs, salt marshes and the open sea itself. It also contains many rare species as the Kemp Ridley’s turtle, the Hawksbill turtle, the brown pelican and the Atlantic bluefish tuna whose populations could drop dramatically as the oil slick covers them or blocks their respiratory airways. The oil would ultimately affect all of these habitats and its inhabitants; it would also affect the organisms that depend on those habitats for only part of their lifecycles like the mangroves that act as nurseries for many fishes. Oil also destroys millions of fish eggs as well as causes deformities during the early development stages.
The indirect effects of the oil spill must also be considered. Burning the oil as clean up strategy releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which does not help the greenhouse problem. Oil is a substance that is quite difficult to remove once spread and removing it from wildlife is a demanding task. While many may survive, others may not respond to their change in habitats so well. More problematic is the fact that these effects may last over the years. The Exxon valdez accident required 30 years for the habitats to get back to normal. It is difficult to estimate recovery here. Animals may show changed behaviours (because they may have been affected by the oil at the gene level), weaker eggs which fail to hatch, and they may even ingest oil particles during glooming.
Though the extent of damage is quite large about the BP spill it is questionable whether the technology that we have today as compared to 30 years earlier during the Exxon valdez spill would be good enough to clear up the black coat. Marine life has already been affected with numerous deaths but let’s just hope that more can be saved.