Oceana released a new report titled “Time for Action: Six Years After Deepwater Horizon” that highlights the long-term impacts of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, which began six years ago next week. In the report, Oceana reviews the most recently published research that documents the damage from the oil spill to the Gulf of Mexico’s marine wildlife, habitats and communities.
While scientists are still working to understand the scale of the devastation to wildlife, fisheries and human health, Oceana marine scientist Dr. Ingrid Biedron says that we are already starting to see the long-term impacts of the spill.
“The significant die-off of whales and dolphins that began in 2010 continues today,” said Biedron. “Increased mortality rates and diminished reproductive success can have long-term effects on marine mammal populations impacted by the spill. But instead of learning from the disaster, Congress has done virtually nothing to reduce the risk of another spill in U.S. waters.”
Mortality rates for common bottlenose dolphins living in Barataria Bay, Louisiana were 8 percent higher and their reproductive success was 63 percent lower compared to other dolphin populations.
An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 birds died as a result of the spill.Harmful oil and/or oil dispersant chemicals were found in about 80 percent of pelican eggs that were laid in Minnesota, more than 1,000 miles from the Gulf, where most of these birds spend winters.
Oil exposure caused heart failure in juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tunas, reduced swimming ability in juvenile mahi-mahi and caused gill tissue damage in killifish.The oil plume caused bleaching and tissue loss in deep-water coral reefs over an area three times larger than Manhattan.
Endangered sea turtles that had migrated to the Gulf from Mexico, South America and West Africa died in the spill, demonstrating the global scale of impacts.The 50,000 people involved in the spill cleanup were exposed to chemicals that severely damage lung tissue.
Cleanup workers and their spouses reported increased depression and domestic disputes.Even Gulf residents indirectly affected by the spill suffered from increased anxiety and depression.
It can take a decade or more for oil spill victims to recover from the physical and psychological effects of an oil disaster.The impact of the oil spill on fisheries could total $8.7 billion by 2020, including the loss of 22,000 jobs.10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating activity were lost.
“Six years later, the lesson from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is clear: offshore drilling is not safe for marine ecosystems, the economy or human health,” said Biedron. “We know that opening new areas to offshore drilling poses unacceptable risks. We should not be expanding offshore drilling in U.S. waters or using disruptive technologies like seismic airgun blasting that can disrupt marine life to search for oil and gas. Instead of expanding our dependence on risky offshore drilling, we should rapidly develop clean energy solutions like offshore wind.”
Despite the recent decision to protect the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling, the government has proposed new lease sales in the Arctic Ocean, and seismic airgun blasting is still being pursued in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida. Last month, Oceana released a new set of maps that show the threat of seismic airgun blasting to important marine ecosystems off the East Coast. Specifically, the maps depict the overlap between current seismic airgun permit application areas in the Atlantic and known habitats for at-risk turtles, whales and sharks, as well as commercially and recreationally important fish species.
Last year, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain.”
To read the report and learn more about Oceana’s campaign, please visit www.Oceana.org/TimeForAction.