I am sure that everybody with ears has heard about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. However, what some people do not know is that this may be the biggest ecological disaster the USA has ever seen. Along the Gulf Coast are several important wildlife areas that are going to be hit very hard by the continuing spill. In the last month a US government panel increased the estimated rate of flow of oil – the revised estimates double the previous figures, suggesting that 25,000-30,000 barrels are being spewed into the Gulf each day – that is 1 barrel every 3 seconds! The impact of this will continue for months as more and more of the coastline becomes toxic to wildlife.
This info is from the National Wildlife Federation:
Impacts on Mammals
Marine mammals, including West Indian manatees, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, and blue whales can come into contact with the oil and inhale harmful fumes when surfacing for air.
Terrestrial and semi-aquatic mammals including river otters, mink and swamp rabbits will lose habitat and food sources as oil washes into coastal wetlands.
Impact on birds.
Egrets, herons, ibises, roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans and Wilson’s plovers (to name just a few) lose buoyancy and their ability to keep warm; suffer skin and eye lesions; and ulcers, pneumonia, liver damage, and other life-threatening conditions from ingesting oil when they try to feed or clean oil from their feathers.
Many ground-nesting shorebirds, including plovers and terns, are at risk of losing their eggs and young.
Millions of migratory birds use the Gulf Coast as a critical stopover point after the exhausting flight across the Gulf of Mexico and will face habitat and food shortages as oil washes ashore.
Impact on Fish.
Yellowfin tuna, blue tuna, blue crabs, sharks, oysters, shrimp and other species lose their ability to fight disease and experience a build-up of contaminants in their bodies over time.
Oil exposure is lethal to fish eggs and larvae that are not yet mobile and cannot escape the oil slick.
Impact on Reptiles.
Reptiles depend on the coast for breeding ground, habitat and food sources. Sea turtles, including the loggerhead and the green turtle, are getting ready to begin their nesting season.
Impacts on Habitat
Ninety percent of all the marine species in the Gulf depend on coastal estuaries at some point in their lives, and most of these estuaries are in Louisiana. Louisiana’s estuarine habitat includes salt marshes and barrier islands that sit on the edge of Louisiana’s coast, and those will be hit first–and hardest–by the oil spill.
Oil is harder to remove from the highly organic soils that occur in coastal wetlands and marshes.
Oil can kill or reduce growth of marsh grasses, which are a key source of food and cover for wildlife. This vegetation loss will also lead to erosion and contribute to the coast’s already rapid rate of land loss.
The latest figures suggest that over 400 species of wildlife that rely on the Gulf Coast are being threatened – with recovery for some species not expected for decades. There is also some concern that the initial body count is wildly inaccurate. The Exxon Valdez disaster enquiry found that only a small portion of carcases were found, researchers believed that only 10% of the dead wildlife was recovered – in the case of the Louisiana Spill that could mean that 13,000 birds have already been lost, 500 mammals and thousands of turtles. There is no way to tell how much of the fish poulation has been affected. One particularly sad fact is that the Brown Pelican, which was only removed from the endangered species list last year, is nesting now in the Gulf area. Chicks, nests and eggs are being disturbed not only by the oil, but also from the rescue effort – cleaning machinery and volunteers are unavoidably decreasing the chance of these birds surviving by interfering (unintentionally) with nesting sites.
The National Wildlife Federation has been involved in the rescue mission since day 1. Their work is invaluable and could mean the difference between recovery or extinction for some species. There is a donation area here, or visit the NWF homepage and click on the link there.
Some of the affected bird habitats being threatened by the spill include:
1) Gulf Coast Least Tern Colony. One of the world’s largest colonies of the threatened least tern.
2) Lower Pascagoula River – including the Pascagoula River Coastal Preserve. The coastal marshes at the mouth of the river support yellow and black rails, snowy plovers and endangered wintering piping plovers.
3) Gulf Islands National Seashore. Hosts thousands of wintering shorebirds, including endangered piping plover, Wilson’s plover and American oystercatcher as well as brown pelican, black-crowned night-heron, white ibis and black skimmer.
4) Breton National Wildlife Refuge – including the Chandeleur Islands. Largest tern colony in North America, predominantly of sandwich, royal, and caspian terns. Also American oystercatcher, brown pelican, reddish egret and endangered piping plover. Also an important wintering area for magnificent frigatebird, and stopover site for redhead and lesser scaup.
5) Dauphin Island. An important stopover site for migrant birds including shorebirds, gulls, terns, herons and rails.
6) Fort Morgan Historical Park. An important stopover site for migratory birds including shorebirds, gulls, terns, herons and rails.
7) Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. An important stopover site for thousands of trans-Gulf migrants.
8) Eglin Air Force Base. Best known for its inland population of red-cockaded woodpeckers, Elgin also has significant coastal habitat for shorebirds and wading birds.
9) Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Large numbers of wading birds nest here, including white ibis, snowy egrets and herons; thousands of shorebirds use the mudflats in winter and during migration, including dunlin, long-billed dowitcher and western sandpiper as well as endangered piping plover.
10) Baptiste Collette Bird Islands. This artificial barrier island, created from dredge spoil, is one of the many Louisiana coastal islands that could be affected. Birds found here include caspian tern, brown pelican, gull-billed tern and black skimmer.