BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an unprecedented disaster for the Gulf of Mexico, but eight years after the runaway spill was capped, many scientists monitoring the Gulf are cautiously optimistic that the worst of it has passed.
Considered by some researchers to be the biggest ecological disaster in history, BP’s oil spill started when the Macondo well a mile beneath the Deepwater Horizon blasted nearly 5 million barrels of oil (about 210 million gallons) into the Gulf. Water currents mainly carried it north and east, depositing millions of gallons on the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
While the oil spill has dissipated for the most part, the jury is still out on how much the Gulf as a whole has recovered. Responses to the recovery question can vary depending on who you ask and where along the BP oil spill’s path you’re talking about.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, which the BP oil spill turned into ghost towns in the summer of 2010, rebounded almost immediately. The 2011 tourist season there set a new record for lodging tax revenues, and each subsequent year has set a new record, Herb Malone, president and chief operating officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, told the Montgomery Advertiser.
Things are looking good offshore as they are for the local economy, too. The 84th Annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo last month drew 3,000 anglers from all over the U.S. and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest fishing tournament, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Red Snapper Rally
Col. Scott Bannon, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division pointed to red snapper as an indicator of the Gulf’s health.
“We closed (red snapper) season early because we had a lot of fish, and a lot of big fish, caught early,” Mr. Bannon told the Advertiser. “We arrived at a limit of fish we felt could be taken and still protect the fishery, and we got to the amount in half the time we expected.”
Time Will Tell
Dr. Ruth Carmichael of Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab told the Advertiser that the Gulf’s ecology is so complex and dynamic that no one species could indicate the overall health of the Gulf’s ecosystem. She said the key is to continue to monitor the various stressors in the Gulf after the oil spill, a process that could last decades, according to the Advertiser.
According to The Guardian, some scientists are concerned that the spilled oil, much of which continues to linger on the seabed, has altered the basic building blocks of life in the ocean by reducing biodiversity in sites closest to BP’s Macondo wellhead. As such, it could take years to see the full impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf’s ecosystems.
The Environmental Defense Fund also notes that the oil spill’s epicenter is 40 miles south of the Louisiana Coast in Mississippi River Delta, “an ecosystem already under enormous pressure” from agricultural runoff, the oil industry, and other commercial activities.
That submerged, toxic oil could also be churned up, redeposited in other areas, and returned back to the beaches the next time a powerful hurricane rips through the area.