The Delta and the BP Oil Spill
The BP oil spill sent more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last year and polluted more than a thousand miles of coastline. It was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in history and the Mississippi River Delta and its wetlands were hit particularly hard.
It will be a long time before we fully understand the impact of the spill, but there are signs that the oil is still having an effect on the Gulf:
One year after the spill, nearly 500 miles of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida remained affected, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including many of Louisiana’s ecologically important barrier islands.
Statistics from NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Protected Resources show that the number of marine mammal strandings, including whales, dolphins and sea turtles, has increased dramatically since the spill.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documented the effect of BP oil on Gulf killifish. This minnow-like wetlands fish, also known as bull minnow or cacahoe, is a critical part of the Gulf’s food chain and is commonly used for bait. The study found that oil exposure has altered the killifish’s cellular function in ways that are known to be predictive of developmental abnormalities, decreased hatching success, and decreased embryo and larval survival.
Researchers from Auburn University have found that oil mats found on the Alabama coast in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee were from the BP oil spill. The study throws into doubt the widely-held belief that submerged oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident isn’t as harmful as it once was.
The spill is also taking an economic toll on the fishing industry in the Delta. While testing has shown that seafood in the Gulf is safe to eat, many fishing guides have reported a significant drop in business since the spill.