Oil slicks do so much more damage than just the initial havoc we see on the news; the effects can be long lasting. The recent Deep water BP oil leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico well and truly eclipsed the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 and now has the potential of being one of the largest oil spills on record. Latest official estimates state approximately 4.1 million barrels of oil contaminated the ocean.
While oil is spilled or leaked into waterways and the ocean, it spreads very quickly with the help of wind and currents. A single gallon of oil can create an oil slick up to a couple of acres size! The BP oil slick had spread over 580 square miles in just three days. When oil starts mixing in water, it can change composition and becomes what’s known as “mousse”. This is a sticky substance that clings even more to whatever it comes in contact with. Many marine animals don’t know to avoid a slick and some fish may even be attracted to it as it can resemble food.
Some of the many effects on animals coming into with crude oil include: -Hypothermia and drowning of birds as the oil breaks down the insulating capabilities of feathers, makes them heavier and negates flying ability -Hypothermia in some seal pups as the oil destroys the insulating fur -If oil is ingested, it can poison the animal outright, make them extremely sick or create a level of toxins in their system that then causes poisoning further up the food chain. Birds and other animals often ingest oil when trying to clean them. Shellfish and corals are particularly at risk in these scenarios as they cannot escape from an oil slick. -Damage to animal immune systems
-interruption of breeding and fouling of breeding grounds-Thinner bird and turtle egg shells and also damage to fish larvae, causing deformities -Damage to sea grass beds and other feeding areas
-Damaging of algae, which perform a vital role in waterway ecosystemsEven once the oil appears to have dissipated; it can still lurk beneath the surface of beaches and the sea bed, severely affecting marine organisms that burrow underground, such as crabs. These burrowing creatures are also food for other animals, so the cycle of poisoning continues for many years.
There’s really no aspect of a marine and coastal environment that is not in some way adversely affected by an oil spill. The closer the spill occurs to the shoreline, the more pronounced the damage will be due to coastal zones being home to more concentrated and diverse populations of marine, bird and animal life than far out to sea. There have been a total of 15 known marine oil spills consisting of over 100,000 tones. One tone of crude oil is roughly equal to 308 us gallons; so in the Persian Gulf incident, approximately 462 million barrels were spilled – 20 times more than the USA consumes in a day, over a year’s worth of consumption for Australia and enough to supply the entire world’s crude oil needs for around 5 days.
Its interesting to note that the Exxon disaster, didn’t quite reach the “100,000” mark, it wasn’t even close at approximately 35,000 tones, but previous to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, it was the largest spill in U.S. history and given where it occurred, one of the biggest ecological disasters the nation has experienced. That spill killed hundreds of thousands of sea birds, thousands of otters, hundreds of seals as well as killer whales, bald eagles and fish. Its not just how much oil is spilled that plays a role in the devastation that occurs, but where it spilled.
Oil leaks and spills don’t just affect marine life; they have a direct impact on humans too long after the initial media frenzy has died down. Some Alaskan communities were affected by the Exxon disaster as important commercial fishing and hunting grounds were contaminated for an extended period. Tourism was also affected by this oil spill disaster. Unfortunately the people, creatures and ecosystem of Louisiana and other states are experiencing the same….