Oil Spill Gulf of Mexico 2010: Wildlife and Fish At Risk
The Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico is Getting Worse: We Examine What Wildlife and Fish Are At Risk From the Spill
Hundreds of species of wildlife and a billion dollar fishing industry are at risk from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 30 as the oil heads closer to shore and the weather is not cooperating to help keep the spill at bay.
There are about 5,000 barrels a day pouring in to the ocean and for the wildlife in the region, this could mean a disaster to rival the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, where some of the most poignant images still in peoples' minds are birds and otters covered in oil.
There have already been reports that one bird has been cleaned that was found covered in oil and that wildlife officials are firing cannons to keep the birds from landing near the water's edge.
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What Are Some of the Species At Risk From the Oil Spill?
There are five species of sea turtles that live in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, with the Kemp's Ridley turtle only nesting here and no where else in the world. Their nesting season is in April, so they could be severely affected. This species is classified as endangered, along with the Leatherback and Green turtles, and the Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles are listed as threatened.
Whales are also found in the area, specifically the Bryde whale and the sperm whale and a few whales were sighted in the region as early as a few days ago. According to the CBC, Bryde whales are even more at risk due to the way they eat, through a filter in their mouth, and this means they could swallow large amounts of oil.
Nine species of dolphin are also found here: Bottlenose, Atlantic, Risso, Rough-toothed, Fraser, Pantropical Spotted, Striped, Clymene and Spinner. The dolphins eat fish and with fish stocks affected, they could either eat contaminated fish of would starve due to lack of fish stocks.
The birds are also heavily affected, and for some species, now is their breeding season so they could be the most affected. They are also the hardest to clean as their feathers become coated in the thick black oil.
Species such as the Brown Pelican, Beach-nesting terns and gulls, the reddish egret, warblers, orioles, flycatchers, swallows and buntings are all species that call this area home and will be at risk if the oil spill comes ashore.
For birds, the timing could not be worse; they are breeding, nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore
The sensitive wetlands also found in this region is the home to thousands of spawning, and if this area is affected, then the billion dollar fishing industry that relies on stocks from here will be affected too, and that will be felt country-wide.
It is estimated that the cost to the fishing industry could be as much as $2.5 billion.
This very unique ecosystem is home to species such as mussels, crab, oysters, shrimp, plankton and these are not only caught for sale, but are also sources of food for animals such as otters and dolphins. If one species is affected, then all species could be affected.
What Happens When Wildlife Comes in Contact with Oil?
According to the Water Encyclopedia, oil spills in the ocean not only has an immediate effect, but also a long-term effect. Oil will coat and smother fish and wildlife species, which could cause mortality through ingestion or suffocation. For birds, when oil coats their feathers, the birds then try to clean them, then ingest the oil and that in turn disrupts their digestive system and they could die.
If oil coats oyster beds it will also suffocate the oysters and kill them and this can be a problem for other species who eat oysters and then become sick and die themselves.
The longer term effects could include the burning of animal's skin from the toxic oil, and poisoning from oil waste. The oil can deteriorate the thermal insulation on an animal's skin and can damage their reproductive systems meaning they can no longer breed.
Any interruption to the food chain could havet long-term effects as one species can no longer sustain itself without the food source of another.