Three years have passed since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing a torrent of oil from its blown-out Macondo well that created the worst oil disaster in the history of the United States. But while Gulf residents and businesses continue to heal from the damage, a new report by the National Wildlife Federation suggests the Gulf’s marine life is still in grave danger.
“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” National Wildlife Federation senior scientist and lead report author Doug Inkley, said. “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.”
According to the report, Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster, the dolphin die-off in the Gulf that last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called “unprecedented” continues. In January and February of 2013, infant dolphins were found dead at rates six times higher than average. All evidence, so far, points to the BP oil spill as the likely culprit in the dolphin deaths.
Sea turtles also “continue to die in alarmingly high numbers” after the oil spill, the NWF reports. According to the organization, about 240 sea turtles are normally stranded on Gulf beaches each year. Between May 2010 and November 2012, however, more than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded – about seven times more than usual.
The NWF also reports that a coral colony seven miles from BP’s Macondo well sustained heavy damage by the oil spill. A recent laboratory analysis also found that oil mixed with the chemical dispersant Corexit impeded the ability of some corals to grow as a healthy reef would.
Scientists are also finding massive die-offs of micro-organisms, plankton, killifish, and other species that form the base of the Gulf’s food chain. The NWF reports that scientists have found the oil has affected plankton and killifish at the cellular level, which may be harming larger species such as mahi mahi.
Complicating the Gulf’s recovery is the fact that funds for the kind of wide-scale, aggressive restoration projects that are needed are tied up in litigation or have been lost to government cutbacks.
“What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years,” Ian MacDonald, professor of Oceanography at Florida State University, told the NWF. “In many cases, funding for critical research has 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.”
Ryan Lambert, a lodge and charter boat operator in Buras, Louisiana, told the NWF that “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.”