Oil Spill Focus Centers on Wildlife Impact

The environmental disaster spawned by the BP oil spill and playing out along the shorelines of Gulf Coast states is now focusing with ever-greater urgency on the adverse effects being suffered by the region’s diverse marine wildlife.

That wildlife encompasses both the obvious and less noticeable, ranging from dead birds of various species to dolphins, turtles, shrimps and crabs, and also including zooplankton and other invertebrate food sources that are critical to maintaining fish and other aquatic populations.

Marine communities along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are seeing advancing oil slicks and pools wash up along beaches, trapping and drowning birds and – for many residents – cutting severely into income they customarily receive during the dominant time of the tourist season.

How bad is it? An illustrative comment comes from boat captain and fishing guide Dave Marino of Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, who says this about the inflow of crude from the sea: “It looks like it’s going to be wave after wave of it and nobody can stop it.”

As to how much there is, and how much is being captured, opinions vary. Government officials estimate that, since the April 20 BP rig explosion, perhaps close to 50 million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen states that a recent cap placed over the blown well is now capturing from one quarter to one half of the oil leaking into the water each day.

There is some guarded optimism among marine scientists, who state that wildlife deaths thus far have occurred at a rate far below what was observed following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. A central reason for the difference is that the BP rig was scores of miles off the coast, in open waters, whereas the Valdez hit a reef close to shore.

That comparison, though, offers little solace to humans and wildlife immediately affected by the spill. Marino supplies a representative summing up with this analogy: “It’s like pouring gas in your aquarium. What do you think that’s going to do?

Related Resource: CBS News Interactive “Gulf Oil Spill’s Threat to Wildlife Turns Real” June 6, 2010

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