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Keeping Tabs on the Gulf

Oil flowed from BP’s Macondo well for 87 days following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, a wrenching ordeal of watching and waiting for people along the Gulf of Mexico. But a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation shows how for the Gulf’s fragile ecosystem and its wildlife, the impacts of that spill are far from over.

“Three years following the initial blast, the effects of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe still continue to unfold,” says Doug Inkley, the NWF’s senior scientist and lead author of the report, Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico.

The NWF studied how various wildlife species across the Gulf were faring following the spill. In particular, it found that sea turtles and dolphins were dying at higher rates.  

The report assigned grades to environmental concerns that federation scientists have been tracking for the past three years. There was some good news, with brown pelicans and shrimp both rated “good,” though the report also pointed to threats to coastal habitat for both species. But in addition to concerns for dolphins (“fair”) and sea turtles (“poor”), the report noted declining bluefin tuna numbers (“poor”), dead deep sea coral colonies (“fair”) near the spill site and the oiling of some 1,100 miles of coastal wetlands (“poor”), especially around the Mississippi River delta where erosion is already a grave issue.

The NWF released its report while federal oil spill litigation against BP and other corporations involved in the disaster remain underway in New Orleans, and the timing is not coincidental. The report notes that fines from the trials, projected to be many billions of dollars, will create new sources of habitat restoration funding. The NWF included policy recommendations for how this funding could improve the outlook for the species discussed in its report. In particular, it recommends channeling fine money     to rebuild Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

“There’s no one place where we can do more good more quickly, in terms of recreating wetlands, that have a big impact on the Gulf,” said David Muth, director of the federation’s Louisiana Coastal Campaign.

The ongoing BP trial began in February and is scheduled to resume in September. To see the full NWF report, go to nwf.org.


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