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Environmental Impacts of the Bp Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

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Environmental Impacts of the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill


Oil spill is one of the inevitable human-caused disasters. The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, otherwise known as Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is the world's largest accidental marine oil spill in history. According to Cleveland (2010), it was estimated that about 4.9 million barrels of oil were released, which was much higher than other large scale oil spills in United States such as Mandoil II (300,000 barrels) and Exxon Valdez (261, 905 barrels). The disaster began with an explosion abroad the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform on 20 April 2010. Two days later on 22 April, the Deepwater Horizon sank in about 1,500m of water. The sinking of platform caused crude oil to gush out of the riser. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to stop the leak, BP finally announce on July 15 that it had capped the well, stopping the flow of oil into Gulf of Mexico for the first time in 86 days (Cleveland, 2010). Even though the oil leak was stopped, but the oil spill has left certain environmental impacts to the Gulf of Mexico, which is rich in biodiversity. Some of the environmental impacts of the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill include impacts on the marine organisms, impacts on the birds and impacts on the mangrove swamps.

Environmental Impacts

Impacts on the marine organisms

The BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill has a huge impact on the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Biello (2010), there are 8,332 species of marine plants and animals, including more than 1,200 fish such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna, more than 1,500 crustaceans including the bluecrab, and 29 marine mammals including the sperm whales and the bottlenose dolphins, in the area surrounding the spill.

First and foremost, the impact of the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill directly reflects on the productivity of marine plant and phytoplankton. Since the oil covered the surface of the sea, less sunlight is able to penetrate into the water, hence limiting the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton. Apart from decreasing in oxygen content, the food chains in the ecosystem are affected, resulting in decreasing fauna populations starting from the zooplanktons. The presence of oil-consuming bacteria makes the matter worse in the BP Gulf of Mexico as the extent of oil leakage is huge. The bacteria occur naturally and help to remove oil from the ecosystem, and their biomass tends to replace other populations in the food chain. Besides that, the bacteria metabolize oil by consuming oxygen and producing large amounts of carbon dioxide gas; these greatly deplete the dissolved oxygen concentration in the sea water. According to Centre for Biological Diversity (2010), large numbers of sharks, fish and other marine animals were seen gathering in shallow inshore water, believed to be looking for areas where the oxygen has not been depleted by the oil and microbes that metabolize it.

Just as the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill happened, many of the endangered marine species such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Atlantic ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys kempi), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) as well as sperm whales were flocking to the Gulf to spawn, migrate and feed (Centre for Biological Diversity, 2010). As mentioned by Biello (2010), the Gulf of Mexico is one of the two spawning areas in the world for the Atlantic bluefin tuna; normally they will spawn in the Gulf of Mexico around mid-April to mid-June. But now the Atlantic bluefin tuna are in great danger of becoming extinct as the oil was spewing into the water where they hatch throughout this time. The oil could possibly kill juvenile bluefin tuna. Other than that, there were studies showing that the Atlantic ridley sea tutles and loggerhead turtles' embryos died or developed abnormally when the eggs were exposed to oil, either from the sand or their mother's body (Albers & Loughlin, 2003).

The effects of BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on marine mammals are devastating. Marines mammals such as manatees, seals, whales and dolphins do not live in the water solely, they come up to the surface occasionally to breathe. Hence, not only the oil within the water is a threat to them, the toxin given off by oil will also harm them. The marine mammals do not have any significant hairs to become oiled but they rely on a layer of fatty tissues to help them insulate their body. According to Corn and Copeland (2010), if the mammals' bodies are covered in oil, skin irritation might occur, leading to infections. Some of the whales feed by sifting large amounts of water through plates called baleen. With the oil spills, these plates may become clogged with oil and the whales are killed (Corn & Copeland, 2010).

Impacts on the birds

The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill impacts the birds as well, as the Gulf of Mexico held refuge for many species which are migrating or breeding. The impact of oil spill on birds mainly focuses on the Wilson' plovers and the brown Pelican, a species which only came out of the endangered species lists on November 2009.

The birds become covered in oil because those birds actually dive. For an instance, the brown pelicans dive down into the water to catch fish. If their feathers are heavily



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