Curt R. Griffin, a specialist in wetland wildlife ecology and management and biodiversity conservation of Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst sat down last week to discuss the environmental impacts of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, which will ripple throughout the country for decades.
An estimated 100,000 barrels of oil per day gushed into the Gulf of Mexico at the attention of British Petroleum (BP). Oil masses have been washing up in states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida ever since. According to Curt Griffin, this disaster, among the worst in U.S. history and one of the largest the world has ever seen will be a multi-decade impact.
“These major ecological disasters are of major economic significance,” said Griffin. Among the economic implications are the commercial fish industries, which in turn will affect the food industry for years. Commercial fishing will be heavily reduced because of oil damage. Fish coated in oil, or dead in the water are prone to diseases that can affect the life of other aquatic life as well. As a result, tourism will be greatly impacted – hotels and restaurants will suffer a severe blow because of the lack of business in the affected areas. Consequently, these industries have begun lawsuits against BP in an attempt to regain some of their financial losses.
Griffin does not see the negative publicity BP has been dealing with lately to change their structure as a world power. Their processing of oil is needed throughout the world; therefore, any political smear against the corporation will not be seen as a political detractor. He also said he does not see their company facing any danger of survival as the lawsuits will be a regular thing for at least the next 20 years even after they have been fined billions of dollars.
From an ecological standpoint, the marshes and wetlands do not face much of a chance of repair. “The oil is killing the marshes, they don’t have the capacity to rebound quickly,” said Griffin.
Griffin also said that the sinking of these marshes along with salt-water intrusion make it hard for any damage to be reversed. The marshes are also used as canals for pipelines that dredge oil for the pumps. A significant loss of these marshes represents a significant threat to the coastal area.
The impact on the aquatic life has been equally, if not more severe. While all the surface oil has been removed by either being burned off or sucked up by a vacuum, the majority of the below surface old is there to stay. “There is no way to remove below-surface oil,” said Griffin.
Microbial digestion is faster when the sun is shining and the temperature is warm – exactly what the Gulf of Mexico is. Oil will be under water for decades; filter feeders are sucking in the oil and killing them. The off-balance of the ecosystem is entirely impacted.
Most of the wildlife impacted will be birds, sea turtles and marine mammals according to Griffin. Environmentalists like Griffin are worried about specific types of fish such as the Blue-fin Tuna. Some endangered species will also be significantly impacted. The piping Plover, Brown Pelican and Sea Turtles are a handful of them.
Some corrective actions Griffin suggested that BP, the government and the people of the U.S. should take would be to monitor for oiled birds. Lightly oiled birds will have a hard time flying meaning they would be easier to catch and help. Birds will ingest this oil through their feathers and will die if not treated.
Also under surveillance should be the fish catches for oil. However, now that most of the oil is subsurface, there is very little that can be done.
Griffin took the time to emphasize that while beaches will come back in terms of biodiversity; the same cannot be said about the marshes. Plants and animals contribute to this diversity. Deeply concerned about these marshes, Griffin said, “I worry that the process [of oil vacuuming] is very small compared to the large task that it is.”
While Griffin hopes for a better energy policy and more regulation for deepwater drilling in high-risk areas, he realizes that his hopes may not be fulfilled. Looking at the failure of Obama’s comprehensive energy bill to make it out of the senate, he simply could not predict the outcome.
For decades to come, these areas will be heavily impacted; and may never regenerate. The maintaining of coastal marshes and subsurface life will be challenging as microorganisms will take even more time to migrate back to the Gulf of Mexico.