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On April 20th 2010, BP's deep water drilling rig exploded breaking the drill pipeline and spewing crude oil into Gulf of Mexico (Fahrenthold, 2010). As of august 2, 2010, an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil has leaked in to the Gulf (Aigner et al., 2010). When an oil spill occurs, the relative density, wind and water currents play a role in the spread of the oil slick (Embach 2010). Oil spills have a devastating effect on the environment. Oil can poison and contaminate fishes and other sea creatures; it destroys food sources of many fishes and hinders their reproductive cycle (Embach 2010). In the long run, oil can reach the shores and costal sediments and affect marine and terrestrial species causing them to change or disappear altogether (Embach 2010).
Humans impact the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico every year by adding wastes. These wastes are nitrogen rich which aid in the massive algal bloom; algal bloom causes a dead zone (Biello 2010). A dead zone in the ocean has low levels of oxygen and kills marine animals, an oil spill will worsen the situation (Biello 2010). Animals caught in the dead zone are deprived of oxygen and die because they cannot escape. An oil slick floating on top of the water will prevent even the small amount of oxygen to reach these animals (Biello 2010).
BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest accidental oil spill to date (Aigner et al., 2010). Another major oil spill is the Exxon Valdez of 1989. An Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska; the residues of this spill will be seen thirty years from now (Embach 2010). The Exxon Valdez spill foreshadows the future of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Biomes and Ecosystems:
The marine biome is most affected by the BP oil spill. The marine biome is divided into three ecosystems: the oceans, the coral reef and the estuaries (McVey). The Gulf of Mexico is teeming with marine animals. The oil slick can form a layer of oil on top of the water which interrupts oxygen supply to many marine animals (Karthik, 2010). Fishes crabs and other marine animals die because of the lack of oxygen. Some fishes, clams, and oysters can have a toxic buildup in their system (Karthik, 2010). At some point in their lives almost all marine animals use estuaries (National wildlife Federation, 2010). Estuaries in Louisiana are made up of barrier islands and salt marshes which make it difficult to clean the oil spill (National wildlife Federation, 2010). "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" (National wildlife Federation, 2010). Coral reefs are very sensitive to oil spills as they can disrupt their life cycle etc. (NOAA, 2007). When coral reef encounters an oil spill it undergoes stress and starts bleaching which can be fatal to the coral (NOAA, 2007). The terrestrial habitat is also affected by the oil spill. Rock and gravel found on the coast are exposed to the oil and can retain toxins; these toxins can kill the surrounding vegetation and other wildlife (Karthik, 2010).
Food Chains affected:
A food chain is the linear movement of energy from producers to herbivores to carnivores or omnivores to other tertiary consumers so on and so forth (Hickman et al., 2008). The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico disrupted a lot of marine life which in turn disrupted the food chain. For example, phytoplanktons under stress increase their mucous production and cover the ocean surface with marine snow (Dell'Amore, 2010). Marine snow sinks to the bottom of the ocean taking everything they come in contact with (Dell'Amore, 2010). A prolonged impact of this can starve other organism as the phytoplankton is an important food source (Dell'Amore, 2010). After the Bp oil spill, scientist have noticed tar ball in the sunken marine snow; the bottom dwellers who feed on the marine snow could be ingesting toxins along with their food (Dell'Amore, 2010).
Oil spill affects all levels of the marine food chain (Air and Waste Management, 2000). Phytoplankton could be contaminated by the oil and it is the eaten by a fish which in turn is eaten by bigger fish which is consumed by a human (Air and Waste Management, 2000).
Impact of oil spill on animal population:
Marine and some terrestrial animals depend on the Gulf of Mexico for food, shelter, and breeding. Many animals such as the sea turtle, birds, sperm whale and dolphins have been affected by the oil spill. 97 mammals, 6104 birds, 605 sea turtles have been reported dead to date (National Wildlife Federation, 2010). There are five endangered species of sea turtle that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, every summer Loggerhead turtles lay eggs on the beach, and this is a vital step in their reproduction (National Wildlife Federation, 2010). However, this year this process is hindered because of the oil spill, if this continues the five endangered species of sea turtles will go extinct (National Wildlife Federation, 2010). In order to protect the endangered species, wildlife experts are preserving the eggs of sea turtles along the Florida coastline (Environmental News Service, 2010). Another animal affected by the oil spill is the sperm whale. Scientist say that death of even three sperm whales will endanger the entire population (Than, 2010). Sperm Whales are indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, they are a relatively small population and are endangered species (Than, 2010). Each year at least three sperm whales are being hunted by humans and the oil spill add to this number; Sperm Whales do not reproduce often therefore they are endangered (Than, 2010).The deepwater horizon oil spill is putting these whales at risk because it is preventing them from breathing (Than, 2010). When these whales take in air or eat tainted fish they are ingesting toxic oil (Than, 2010). When the whales surface to breathe, the noxious fumes of the oil spill can make them unconscious and causing them to drown (Than, 2010). Dolphins are facing similar problem as they also have to surface to breathe.
The Gulf Manta Ray is another animal which is affected by the oil spill. Little is known about these animals, they are filter feeders (Handwerk, 2010). These fishes breathe using their gill, their gills are very sensitive and a minute amount of oil can kill them (Handwerk, 2010). Since the information regarding these animals is limited, scientists are unable to tell whether these animals are endangered (Handwerk, 2010).
Response to the oil spill:
An article by the Washington Post gives a timeline of events that occurred since the oil rig explosion on April 20, 2010. This article shows the actions taken by the federal government. The Federal government reacted by closing certain areas in the Gulf of Mexico to fishing and President Obama suspended new deepwater drilling in the gulf for the next six months (Fahrenthold, 2010). Finally on July 15, 2010 the oil well was closed, approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf (Fahrenthold, 2010). This oil spill was about nineteen times more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill twenty years ago (Fahrenthold, 2010). BP took a total of four months to close the well. They were not efficient and caused great damage to the environment. September 17, 2010 was the day when they injected the cement into the well to seal it for good (Fahrenthold, 2010). During this time many marine animals suffered irreparable damage. I think the government needs to closely observe deep sea drilling for oil. The government also needs to enforce a stronger plan of action in case a similar incident occurs. There has been a lot of outrage over BP's handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration pointed out that BP did not use adequate resources to control the oil spill (Robertson, and Lipton, 2010).
The New York Times released an article 103 day after the spill. This article showed that about 800,000 barrels of oil was removed through containment and 4.1 million barrels is still in the sea (Aigner et al., 2010). Twenty five percent of the 4.1 million barrels is either on the coastline or at sea (Aigner et al., 2010). I think that government did nothing to expedite the clean up. Fisheries and other tourist businesses took a toll because of the slow clean up. Fisheries suffered the most because many fish are contaminated and this could be a potential health risk, therefore the fishing market will see a decline (karthik, 2010). About 1.3 million barrels of oil is still needs to be cleaned up (Aigner et al., 2010). I think that we as a society need to take an active part in the cleanup process. We should compel the government to play a more active role in regulating the deep sea drilling.
The Future impact of the spill:
Previous oil spills act as an example of the future impact on the environment. Exxon Valdez oil spill twenty years ago destroyed the ecosystem. Scientists say that the impact of the Exxon oil spill will be seen even 30 years after the incident (Embach 2010). If the impact of Exxon Valdez spill is seen today, then the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which is about 19 times larger will take many decades to clear. Twenty Years after the Exxon Valdez spill, the destroyed fish and turtle eggs have yet to recover (Crawley, 2010).
Millions of gallons of oil were spilled in to the ocean. Scientists have started collecting samples of mollusks from the coast to determine the effects of the oil spill (Hance, 2010). They picked mollusks as the specimen because they incorporate the contaminants into their shells (Hance, 2010). Mollusks will be observed over time to determine the impact of the oil spill on these animals (Hance, 2010).
In conclusion, the BP oil spill is one of the worst oil spills in history (Aigner, 2010). It greatly affected the Marine biome (McVey). Many marine and terrestrial animals like sperm whale, turtles, and birds were greatly affected by the oil spill (National Wildlife Federation, 2010). Sperm Whales and dolphins are surface breathers; oil slick interfered with their breathing and led to their death (Than, 2010). The response to the oil spill was delayed; BP did not close the well until four months after the spill (Fahrenthold, 2010). I think that the government should play a more active role in regulating the deep sea drilling for oil. Hopefully in the future we can find a quicker and easier way to control an oil spill and reduce the damage to the environment.