Special Report: The Gulf Oil Spill

5 Years Later

NASA Goddard aerial view of Gulf Coast oil spill

The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the April 20, 2010 explosion of an offshore oil rig has put local economies, wildlife and the Gulf's delicate coastal ecosystem at risk. This is one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation's history. Many dedicated people are working hard to cap the well, contain the spill and minimize the damage to one of our nation’s crown jewels: the Mississippi Delta.

For a comprehensive overview of what happened, see this article from the Encyclopedia of Earth.

To see the timeline of events and how the oil spread over time, click here.

For an amazing perspective on the size of the spill - by looking at it as if it were in your own neighborhood - click here and enter your zip code.

About 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the lower 48 states are found in Louisiana. These millions of acres of wetlands were built over thousands of years by Mississippi River floodwaters that deposited huge amounts of sediment at the river's delta.

Today, these wetlands range from interior forested wetlands to barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico and a wide array of interconnected habitats, including freshwater, brackish and salt marshes that are home to millions of birds and other wildlife.

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Susy Horowitz

Kids Ask the Experts

Cleanup crews worked around the clock to contain the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill created an oil slick that threatened and continues to threaten fish and wildlife in the Gulf and surrounding wetlands. Here’s what kids are asking about the spill—and answers from environmental experts.  

 

Helping Wildlife

See how experts and volunteers are helping wildlife survive the oil spill.

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Gulf wetlands

 

What IS a Wetland?

Wetlands are places where there is shallow water or very soggy soil at least part of the year. Plants that grow there love having "wet feet." There are many different kinds of wetlands. And, they’re some of the most important places on Earth.

 

Why are wetlands so important?

  • Without wetlands, thousands of species of animals and plants would become extinct. Without wetlands, floods and pollution would be much worse. But people haven't always understood how important wetlands are. They’ve thought of them as smelly, buggy wastelands. They’ve drained the water from them, making dry land for farms, houses, and shopping malls.
  • Today more than half of the wetlands in the "lower 48" states have been destroyed. And some people think it’s OK to destroy even more. But many others know what you’ll soon know: Wetlands are wonderlands that we – and thousands of other species – could never do without.

Wet Bits

Check out these fascinating facts about wetlands.  

Books to Read

Check out these children's books on oils spills and wetlands!

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Read our Report
Five Years and Counting, a report by the National Wildlife Federation
For Educators: Oil Spill and Wetlands Activities & Info
Science Class
In this section you'll find background information on wetlands as well as activities to learn more about several different types of wetlands.
For Parents and Educators
Classroom
Special Guide for Talking to Kids About the Gulf Oil Spill.
Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
Gulf-Restoration

Setup under the RESTORE Act the council's goals are to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands, and economy of the Gulf Coast region. Education materials found here.