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Monday, May 10, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill - The Environmental Impact We All Need to Understand

We see the pictures on TV showing the oily surface on the water.  It looks horrible but surprising not as bad as we might have thought.  We haven't seen pictures - yet - of oily beaches and only a few pictures of animals impacted.  Yet, it is almost a certainty that the future holds dire consequences for us.  Some of them may include these:

21 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster it is estimated that 21,000 gallons of oil still remain just below the surface of Alaska's Prince William Sound, and the long term environmental effects on the area have far exceeded scientists' original predictions. It can be hard to gauge the extent of the current disaster in the Gulf, as the oil continues to flow relentlessly into the water, and the sandy beaches and coastal marshes will certainly react differently to the pollution than Alaska's rocky terrain. Regardless, it is clear that the damage will be dire. Many species are currently nesting and reproducing in the area, and an entire generation of hundreds of species could be lost as a result. Countless marine birds could also be affected, as the area is a primary flyway for many species, currently in its peak migratory period. Though the cause is still unknown, the numerous dead sea turtles and other creatures that have washed ashore is perhaps an early ominous sign of the marine crisis the oil is causing in the deeper waters offshore. New information also reveals that BP is using 100,000 gallons of dispersants (1/3 of the world's supply) on the oil, further contaminating the ocean with harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the true environmental ramifications of this catastrophe won't be known for years to come.

Federal officials have shut down all fishing between the Mississippi River and Florida Panhandle until early-mid next week at the soonest. Fisheries in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are threatened from the effects of this disaster. Louisiana's $2.4 billion sea food industry accounts for approximately 1/3 of the shrimp, oysters, crab and craw fish in America. While the temporary fishing ban only halts 1/4 of Louisiana's seafood production, this could easily change if the oil begins to spread west. But the real impact on the seafood industry will be the long term consequences. The unknown extent of this catastrophe could have an adverse impact on the reproduction of seafood species as well the microscopic creatures that they feed on, potentially devastating the seafood operations in the area for years to come. The spill may even affect bluefin tuna stocks off Atlantic Canada—a species already intensely in decline—as they travel to the Gulf to spawn.

The Gulf Coast has long been home to pristine beaches, admired for their purity and cleanliness. Countless resorts and thriving tourist economies flourish from this natural beauty, with tourism pulling in $100 billion a year in the region. Unfortunately, the oil spill perilously threatens this vital industry with the potential to paint stretches of unspoiled beach black.

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