New Report: Five Years after Deepwater Horizon, Wildlife Still Struggling
Dolphins Dying in High Numbers; Sea Turtles Failing to Nest
As the five-year anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig approaches, a new National Wildlife Federation report looks at how twenty species of wildlife are faring in the aftermath of the disaster.
"Five years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the oil spill," said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "The science is clear that this is not over—and sea turtles, dolphins, fish, and birds are still suffering from the fallout. Holding BP fully accountable and using all fines and penalties to restore the Gulf of Mexico must be a national priority."
Among the findings in Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster:
- Dolphins on the Louisiana coast were found dead at four times historic rates in 2014, and there is increasing evidence that these ongoing deaths are connected to the oil spill.
- Prior to the spill, the number of endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nests found annually was increasing rapidly, but since 2010, the nests found annually have declined on average.
- Exposure to oil has been shown to cause abnormal development in many species of fish, including mahi mahi, Gulf killifish and bluefin and yellowfin tuna.
- Comprehensive modeling estimates that 12 percent of the brown pelicans and 32 percent of the laughing gulls in the northern Gulf died as a result of the oil spill.
- Oil and dispersant compounds have been found in the eggs of white pelicans nesting in three Midwestern states—Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
- Spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout, spawned less frequently in 2011 in both Louisiana and Mississippi than in previous years.
- 2010 and 2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper seen in the eastern Gulf fishery since 1994.
- Coral colonies in five separate locations in the Gulf—three in the deep sea and two in shallower waters—are showing signs of oil damage.
- Sperm whales are spending less time foraging in the area around the wellhead.
- Oil has been found in sediments deep in the Gulf of Mexico, in a 1,200-square mile area around the wellhead.
"Wildlife from sperm whales to marsh ants are still feeling the effects of the disaster," said Ryan Fikes, the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico restoration scientist. "But BP seems to prefer attacking scientists over accepting responsibility. It’s time for BP to quit stalling so we can start restoring the Gulf."
A federal judge will soon decide the case against BP and the other companies for violations of the Clean Water Act. A law passed in 2012 known as the RESTORE Act will send this money back to the five Gulf states. A National Wildlife Federation report released in December 2014 describes 47 projects that would restore wetlands, rebuild oyster reefs, protect landscapes and re-create a more natural balance between fresh and salt water—activities that would enhance the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
"It is essential that the money from these penalties be invested in scientifically-sound restoration projects, like those planned for the Mississippi River Delta and the Everglades," said David Muth, the director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation. "It is our responsibility to future generations to make restoration on a transformative scale a reality."