Horrendous Environmental Damage to Gulf of Mexico Fish and Wildlife is Just Beginning

 With news of another bumble by BP at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill yesterday, crude oil at the rate of over 2,500,000 gallons per day plus 19,000 million gallons of natural gas(methane) has been released and untold amounts of chemical dispersants are being used to treat the escaped crude oil.   An underwater robot sub crashed into the cap that had been collecting oil 18,000 feet below the surface.  The damaged cap had been removing 700,000 gallons of oil until it had to be removed.  A second pipe that has been siphoning off about 430,000 gallons a day was not damaged and, continues to operate.  When the spill was first reported by BP, the oil company claimed less than 5,000 gallons per day was escaping.  Neither BP nor the US Government will admit how much highly-toxic chemical Dispersant has been used to treat the oil spill.  They only say, “a lot”.  The company reports that two “relief” wells being drilled to try and capture the escaping gas and oil “may” be on line sometime in August.

An unprecedented environmental disaster is occurring in the Gulf of Mexico and there is no way of knowing when it will end.  Already the spill and resultant damage to the environment has far exceeding that caused by the 1989 Exxon Valdez calamity.  Neither the oil company nor our US government knows what to do or how to stop it.  The gulf is one of the most fertile marine environments in the world as are the surrounding wetlands.  It is a spawning, nursery and living environment for many species of fish and shellfish; producing over 20% of the ‘shrimp” and much other seafood consumed in the US.  It is the major of the only two spawning and nursery habitats for endangered “Atlantic Giant Bluefin Tuna” and it is just as important site for the highly endangered “Kemps-Ridley Sea Turtles”.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna - acrylic on canvas board by Bill Hubbard

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna - acrylic on canvas board by Bill Hubbard

 A Northern Gannet seabird was the first victim of the oil spill, but this was only the beginning of a long chain of events sparked by the spill and still going on. It can take years for the damage from an oil spill to diminish and the pressure on species’, habitats and ecosystems in that time can be devastating. Now that the oil has hit Louisiana’s coastal islands and the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida the environmental damage could be catastrophic.

The risk to gulf waterfowl is high, as without human intervention, infected birds will die. The oil makes it difficult for a bird to fly or swim and seriously affects their insulation as their feathers become stuck together leaving their skin exposed. If oil is swallowed or contaminated food is ingested it can damage a birds digestion system.

Louisiana’s state bird, the “Brown Pelican”, is currently in the middle of its nesting season. It nests on the barrier islands and feeds near the shore. There are concerns about its safety as the oil drifts further inland. The Brown Pelican was only removed from the United States Endangered Species act last November and if the slick hits the shore it could be detrimental to the species’ growth and development. Now that the oil slick has hit the coastline it could spell environmental disaster for the breeding grounds in wildlife reserves, state and national parks.

 The spill also coincides with the peak migratory bird period that passes through the Mississippi flyaway, a vital migratory corridor. Therefore a larger variety of birds will potentially be harmed and ecosystems in other locations could be affected. This may reduce the number of birds that complete their migratory journey affecting habitats further afield.

Strong winds are pushing the oil closer and closer to the coastline where booms have been constructed to help keep the oil at bay. If the oil settles in the mangroves and marshes the situation will dramatically worsen as the on land pollution can last for years. Oysters” and shrimp that live in these wetlands will ingest the oil once these areas become infected. These filter feeders are a food source for water foul and their contamination would have consequences throughout the food chain. It is imperative for the ecosystems in the Gulf that the spill is halted as soon as possible and that BP’s clean up of the crude oil is quick and efficient in order to keep the environmental impact of the spill to a minimum.

The oil can reside in the sands and estuaries for years once it has settled and therefore its impact on the biodiversity of an area is long lasting. After similar incidents such as the catastrophic Exxon Valdez  spill in 1989, which the Gulf spill has now far exceeded;  reports of reductions in species population and higher death rates in the following years demonstrate that the potential for enduring damage is a danger. Even though the Exxon Valdez spill happened 21 years ago there are still reports of buried oil being found along the Alaskan coastline that is still having an impact on the local environment, which has never fully recovered.

 Economics 101 – As efforts to plug the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico continue to fall short; the stakes for the region’s economy grow ever higher.  The numbers being batted around when it comes to how much the oil spill will ultimately cost BP and the local Gulf of Mexico economies are huge. $3 billion and $14 billion respectively.  One politician put it at over $100 billion.  The range is so big because two important questions remain unanswered: when will the leak be sealed, and where will most of the oil wash ashore?  But there have been studies done looking at what’s broadly at stake, and the number is huge.

The four biggest industries in the Gulf of Mexico are oil, tourism, fishing and shipping, and they account for some $234 billion in economic activity each year, according to a 2007 study done by regional scholars and published by Texas a&M University Press.  Two-thirds of that amount is in the United States, with the other third in Mexico.  If the Gulf of Mexico were a country, it would be the 29th largest economy in the world. 

Oil and gas.  Ironically, the largest chunk of that money is generated by the oil and gas industry, and they may ultimately be the ones that lose the most.  Oil and gas interests generate $124 billion or 53% of the total money, according to Jim Cato, a former economics professor at the University of Florida and one of the authors on the study.  As of last month, all new offshore drilling in U.S. waters in the Gulf  remained closed by government order.  Oil production from existing wells has been largely unaffected and drillers have been busying themselves with wells begun before the explosion. But the longer the ban remains intact, the harder the economic bite.  “If the moratorium is continued through June, lost revenue from shallow water drilling is estimated at $135 million,” said a letter Friday from 10 senators urging a lifting of the ban.  The ban may eventually be lifted, but how much more the oil industry will have to pay for royalties or spill prevention, plus restricted access to new drilling sites, remains to be seen.

Tourism is the second largest industry in the Gulf, and it ranks right behind oil. About 46% of the Gulf economy, or over $100 billion a year, is from tourism dollars, according to the A&M report.   0:00 /4:05BP’s long-term oil spill fallout

With tourism, it’s not necessarily the oil that washes up on the beach that hurts the industry, but how much oil people think will wash up on the beach. And people seem to think it will be bad.  In Florida, state tourism officials recently told CNN they’re getting cancellations as far as three months out. 

Fishing and shipping.  Fishermen are perhaps the most directly impacted by the spill. The government has already closed over 25% of federal waters for fishing activities and many of them are out of work but commercial fishing and shipping together account for only 1% of the Gulf’s total economic activity.  While the number is small in terms of Gulf cost dollars, it does not factor in the impact a shut-down in shipping could have, which could halt grain and other cargo from traveling up and down the Mississippi River.  According to the Port of New Orleans, no disruption in shipping is foreseen. The Coast Guard has set up five washing stations for ships to get scrubbed if they come into contact with the oil, but so far none have been used, said a port spokesman. 

Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, said Saturday the fishing ban is especially disappointing because this year’s harvest was expected to be the best since 2000.   “This is a sad situation,” he said. “Everything east of Mississippi has been shut down; nobody’s been able to work in those regions.”

What’s the total stake?  Obviously, the oil spill isn’t going to shut down the Gulf’s entire economic output.  When the spill first happened, researchers at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, who also contributed to the A&M report, estimated the economic damages might be $1.6 billion. That number included $400 million in direct economic costs, and another $1.2 billion in services provided by wetlands that might be compromised — things like water filtration and such.   But that number was arrived at when the oil spill was estimated to be 1,000 barrels a day, said David Yoskowitz, chair of socio-economics at Harte.  As many as 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) of oil were spewing into the ocean every day, according to government scientists, which could make this disaster twice the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

BP vowed today to redouble its efforts to contain the well after its most ambitious operation failed yesterday. The company said it will move forward with a plan to install a new containment cap over the well nearly a mile below the surface.  Prior to the scrapping of the “Top Kill,” effort, BP said Friday its costs have totaled 930 Million to date. That includes expenditures on the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf States, claims paid, and federal costs.  Moreover, both the Harte study and the A&M report only look at the Gulf of Mexico. Yet there are reports that the oil is getting caught up in the so-called loop current, which could bring it up the eastern seaboard.  If that happens, all bets are off.   

Today, large amounts of crude oil have overwhelmed the skimming operations of BP and reached the once-pristine white beaches of the Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle area and the devastation is now about to spread southeastward, down the peninsula.  At the same time a large plume has entered the Gulf Loop Current and it is only a matter of days that will reach Key West and advance into the Gulf Stream through the Straits of Florida and on into the Atlantic.  Scientists, who have been studying the Loop Current and Gulf Stream for years, predict the oil will be carried along the Atlantic coast as far north as Georgia or the Carolinas.  There is no way to estimate when the damage will stop or what its total cost will be and, that is very frightening.

This is like going to see a horror movie only all that I have written is true and still going on!


Sources:  Scientific American, AP, Audubon.com, CNN-Money.com; U of Southern Florida, U of Mississippi, Florida Institute of Technology, “Florida Today”

It’s My Cast – Bill Hubbard © – June 24, 2010 – On the Indian River Lagoon


I grew up in a fising family in Gloucester, Massachusetts and began Striper fishing when I was about 10 years old. Built my first rod when I was 12. It was a cut-down bamboo smelt rod with taped on guides and glued on tip-top and used two pipe-clamps to hold the reel that I bought in Sears for about $15.00 From 1959 to 1966 I fished for Tuna out of Gloucester on my 26' Marbleheader, "Beagle". Started with keg-lines the first year, graduated to harpoon the next year and eventually to some used rods and reels. We fished commercially until about 1963, then recreationally. I got a real job in New Hampshire in '69 and moved my growing family there the next year. Started my own insurance agency in 1991, sold it in 2002, retired and moved to Cape Cod in search of my 50 pound Striper. Never caught it but had a great time trying fishing 3-5 times/week-spending many nights on Nauset with friends including Tony Stetzko. I moved to Florida in 2006 and continue to fish the surf and lagoons 3-4 times each week.

Posted in Articles, Florida - East Coast, Lead Article
2 comments on “Horrendous Environmental Damage to Gulf of Mexico Fish and Wildlife is Just Beginning
  1. avatar Dave Langan says:

    Hi Bill-

    I appreciate your write up on the BP spill – just wish it as was fiction…

    I am reading that before the spill BP’s market value was ~$200B and is now half that. As I read your article, or other news sources, I have some concern on the long term cost of the clean up, who is going to pay it, and at what point society will say the clean up is “good enough” due to cost. Given BP’s shares continue to tumble, and rumors of bankruptcy protection, I am obviously not the only one considering this…

    And yes I certainly recognize a lot of environmental damage is and will be done even if money was of no concern.

    For me, this is a scary situation now and more so looking forward.

    Thanks Again!

  2. avatar Bill Hubbard says:

    Thanks, Dave.
    This is the scariest environmental threat I’ve seen in my 76 years.

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