The largest accidental marine oil spill in history. Well, that could mean anything right? It doesn’t have to mean it was huge. But it was. On April 20th 2010 an estimated 780,000 m³ of crude oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico. An explosion caused a well leak in the drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon. The accident took place only 66kms off the American coast. So what are the affects still taking place nearly six years on?
We all remember the photos and videos of the oil being removed or washing up on the shore, but that doesn’t mean the oil is gone. There are significant hydrocarbon deposits on the seafloor in the Desoto Canyon region, over to the east of where the well leaked¹. Only around 25% of the oil was actually removed, the rest is still out there somewhere. Some of that oil can become trapped during the formation of marine snow, causing mass deposits of oil at depth, where they can have a catastrophic effect on benthic (bottom feeding) species.
Even though the gushing well was capped in July 2010, oil is still washing up on shores, which might cause long-term damages to people living in the area.
Marine oil-Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA) due to the oil spill is still impacting marine ecosystems². It’s believed that around 70-90% of marine snow particles that sink from the surface water are then ingested by mesopelagic (depth of 200 to 1000 metres) zooplankton or used by bacteria¹. These are then eaten by other marine species before the oil then reaches the top of the food chain.
16,000 total miles of coastline have been affected, including the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
A study was done in Barataria Bay in 2011, which is in a heavily-oiled area of the Louisiana coastline. Of all the dolphins tests nearly half of them were extremely ill; 17% not expected to survive³. Not only that but since the spill, every year, around 500 sea turtles have been found stranded, sadly, most of them were the much endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles³. When the disaster happened it was the peak breeding season for lots of species of fish and wildlife. The toxins in the oil could have hit eggs and the larval organisms straight away, destroying those age classes, or causing mutations. But it’s only the fish right? They can just breed? No, fish were continued to be fished from the water and many Louisiana fisherman became ill after the spill, and most blame it on the oil in the waters, not only did they become sick they predict that it will take seven years before they can start shrimping again⁴.
For more information about the oil spill and the affects that were seen last year, check out this video:
Do we really need to keep risking our oceans for a fuel that we are quickly running out of when there are so many alternatives? The extent of the 2010 disaster is still widely unknown, as six years isn’t a long enough time in the science community for research to produce a conclusive answer. I personally think we need to push for a change to more renewable energy sources. Not just for our health but for the planet.
- Daly KL, Passow U, Chanton J, Hollander D (2016) Assessing the impacts of oil-associated marine snow formation and sedimentation during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Anthropocene, ISSN 2213-3054, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.006.
- Schwing PT, Romero IC, Brooks GR, Hastings DW, Larson RA, Hollander DJ (2015) A Decline in Benthic Foraminifera following the Deepwater Horizon Event in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0128505. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120565
- National Wildlife Federation (2015) How Does the BP Oil Spill Impact Wildlife and Habitat? nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Habitat/Gulf-Restoration/Oil-Spill/Effects-on-Wildlife.aspx 18/02/16
- Buczynski B (2010) Gulf Oil Spill: 10 Horrifying Facts You Never Wanted To Know. care2.com/causes/10-most-horrifying-facts-about-the-gulf-oill-spill.html 19/02/16
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