Gulf of Mexico's Plants and Animals Impacted by the Oil Spill

There are scores of plants and animals in the Gulf of Mexico, many of them endangered or threatened, that are currently at risk due to the destruction of the Deepwater Horizion.

The disaster that began with the burning and sinking of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform on April 20, 2010 has spread to the shores and floor of the Gulf of Mexico, with as-yet-unknown long-term impacts on the myriad life forms that live there. Anyone concerned about the environmental impact of this spill should acquaint themselves with the various plants and animals that live in and around this diverse and fertile ocean basin.

Of particular concern are the large number of threatened and endangered species that live in/around the Gulf’s rich waters and associated cypress and mangrove swamps/marshes, including:

• Leatherback Sea Turtles

• Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

• Eastern Brown Pelican

• Whooping Crane

• White-faced Ibis

• Interior Least Tern

• Piping Plover

• Reddish Egret

• Black-crowned Night-heron

• Black-necked Stilt

• Long-billed Curlew

• Roseate Spoonbill

• Bald Eagle

• Rough-toothed Dolphin

• Bottlenose Dolphin

• Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

• Short-finned Pilot Whale

• Gulf Salt Marsh Snake

And this list does not include the extensive list of sport and commercial species that thrive in the Gulf and generate, between commercial fishing and tourism, roughly $100 billion a year in income to the surrounding states. This list includes such commercial and sport fish as:

• Spotted Seatrout

• Tarpon

• Cobia

• Southern Flounder

• Atlantic Croaker

• Eastern Oyster

• Red Snapper

• Atlantic Bay Scallop

• Stone and Blue Crab

• Red and Black Drum

• Nearly 50% of US shrimp production comes from Louisiana’s waters

In addition there are cold seeps in deeper areas of the Gulf floor (greater than 305m/1,000ft), vents where hydrogen sulfide and various carbon compounds escape, fostering chemosynthetic communities of bacteria that thrive on this non-solar energy source, supporting collections of higher organisms, like clams and tube worms. The effect on these communities of large sections of sea floor being covered by oil is currently unknown, though it is feared that countless spawning areas for fish may be permanently impacted.

Ironically, the destruction of these plant and animal communities by oil spillage could increase the likelihood of further damage to the oil and gas infrastructure itself. As marsh plants and grasses die off, and the wetlands revert to open water, the pipelines buried there become exposed, risking damage by ship, storm and corrosive sea water. This, in turn, would only exacerbate the already deteriorating situation along the injured Gulf coast, lengthening the time it will take to clean up and restore this vital and unique area in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

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Mark Spence
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Posted on Jun 21, 2010
Mark Spence
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Posted on Jun 21, 2010