BP oil, dispersants sickening and deforming a spectrum of sea life, scientists warn

BP 435x292 BP oil, dispersants sickening and deforming a spectrum of sea life, scientists warn  Fish with open, oozing lesions and shrimp and crabs with no eyes, no eye sockets, and horrible deformities are becoming alarmingly common in the Gulf of Mexico, and scientists monitoring the problem worry that all the toxic pollution unleashed by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill is sickening fish and altering them at the genetic level.

Tracy Kuhns, a commercial fisherman from Barataria, Louisiana, told Al-Jazeera that a fellow fisherman and friend caught 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp at the peak of white shrimp season last September.

Darla Rooks, who has been fishing the coastal Louisiana waters all her life, told Al Jazeera that she has been finding “eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills.”

Ms. Rooks and several others who fish the Louisiana waters for a living say they have never seen such deformities before. And numbers are down as well – way down. According to Ms. Rooks, last year’s seafood catch was just 10 percent of what it should normally be.

Dr. Jim Cowan, a Louisiana State University oceanographer who has been monitoring the health of Gulf fish in the wake of BP’s massive 2010 oil spill, told Al Jazeera he first heard of the sick fish about six months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Dr. Cowan, like most scientists, believes there is a connection between BP’s massive oil spill and anomalies in the Gulf’s ecosystem, such as all the fish with lesions. In April 2011, Dr. Cowan told the St. Petersburg Times that the sick fish “have a bacterial infection that’s consistent with a compromised immune system” and that “there’s no doubt it’s associated with chronic exposure to a toxin.”

“The fishermen have never seen anything like this,” Dr. Cowan told Al Jazeera in a recent interview. “And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I’ve never seen anything like this either.”

The Kuhns told Al Jazeera that at least half the shrimp caught in Barataria Bay last September were eyeless. “Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack eyes, they even lack eye sockets,” Tracy Kuhns told Al Jazeera. She also added that mutated and deformed fish are being found not just in Barataria Bay, which the BP spill hit hard, but far from it as well.

“Some shrimpers are catching these out in the open Gulf,” she told Al Jazeera, “They are also catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless crabs, and crabs with shells that don’t have their usual spikes … they look like they’ve been burned off by chemicals.”

Fully understanding the problem and its future repercussions for the Gulf’s ecology – and its economy (40 percent of the U.S. seafood supply comes from the Gulf) – may take years, but scientists have already uncovered clear links between the sick and deformed sea life, the oil from BP’s blowout, and the chemical oil dispersants BP used to dissolve it.

Scientists blamed the mutations on the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) released from the spill’s submerged oil as well as the two million gallons of the dispersant Corexit that BP used in an attempt to clean up the spill.

According to Al Jazeera, Dr. Cowan “believes chemicals named polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released from BP’s submerged oil, are likely to blame for what he is finding.” Dr. Cowan explained that the fish come from a wide area coinciding with the path of BP’s oil spill and the plumes of Corexit-treated oil, much of which remains on the sea floor.

Many scientists are focusing on the role that Corexit dispersants are playing in the Gulf.

“The dispersants used in BP’s draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber,” Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor told Al Jazeera. “It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known.”


Al Jazeera