Gulf of Mexico’s Oil Spill Impact Intrigues Geographers

It has been more than a month since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to an oil spill that, according to the Guardian, has already dumped 42-100 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Since then, the news has been filled with stories about skimming, tubes, domes, Top-Kill, cut and cap plans, and economic and environmental degradation. 


Courtesy Cheryl Gerber

Public beaches were closed Friday in Grand Isle, La., as oil, dead fish, and birds washed ashore.





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The massive impact of this disaster is difficult to wrap our minds around, and yet it is increasingly important that we try to do so.  This disaster is not an abstract story in the news.  It is a tragic misfortune that affects people, economic chains, ecosystems, and the planet.  Most importantly, it is preventable. 

In permit applications to drill in the Gulf, BP said that it was, “prepared to handle an oil spill more than ten times larger than the one now spewing crude,” according to reports from Alison Fitzgerald of Bloomberg News.  Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, categorized BP’s actions as, “overpromised and underdelivered.  They told us they had a plan that could deal with the consequences of a worst-case scenario. They don’t.”

Even though the worst case scenario detailed in BP’s disaster plan was far worse than the Deepwater Horizon spill, this spill is a worst case scenario for the local economy and environment.

The Oil Spill and the Economy

In the New York Times article “Oil Hits Home, Spreading Arc of
Frustration,” the authors explained the extent of the disaster on the
economy as the oil is, “smearing tourist beaches, washing onto the
shorelines of sleepy coastal communities and oozing into marshy bays
that fishermen have worked for generations.”  The same article recounts
stories of shrimpers stuffing their catches into coolers in preparation
for the season to end abruptly and completely and hotel owners along
the Gulf desperately trying to persuade guests to keep their vacation
plans.  The article also quoted Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, who
warned, “Let’s make no mistake that what is at threat here is our way
of life.”

The Economist reports that, “while 83% of seafood eaten in
America is imported, most oysters are not, and two-thirds of the
oysters consumed [in America] come from the Gulf.” National Geographic
News has reported that many of these oyster beds have already been shut
down due to the spill. 
Additionally, the Gulf produces almost
half of the U.S. supply of shrimp, and, according to the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), “a sustained spill is likely to put the regional economy at
severe risk.”

This disaster comes just a short time after
Hurricane Katrina and the economic downturn and according to Willie
Drye at National Geographic News, this year’s hurricane season is
predicted to be an extremely active one.  A hurricane brings with it an
untold aftermath.  One potential consequence NOAA suggests, is that
storm surges caused by hurricanes could bring discernable deposits of
oil much farther onshore along the Gulf.  The spreading of this oil
will likely harm not only the livelihoods of coastal residents, but an
entire economic network that depends on the Coast. 

The Oil Spill and the Environment

Having already reached coastal shores, the concern now is how far along
the coast oil might travel.  Several weeks ago, NOAA officials said
that, “some of the oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill is ‘increasingly
likely’ to be dragged into a strong current that hugs Florida’s coasts.”

Experts, such as marine biologist Sylvia Earle, already suspect that
the crude may be deadly to plankton, which is vital food that larger
animals depend on.  Although rescue workers can sometimes clean oiled
birds and other larger animals that come ashore, “How do you deal with
de-oiling plankton?” Earle asks.

Sea turtles, which remain on the
U.S. Endangered Species List, are now washing ashore on Mississippi
beaches in numbers exceeding thirty, according to early May reports. 
Since turtles feed and breathe at the water’s surface, the risk of oil
ingestion is particularly dangerous and probable for the species. 

For migratory animals, the Gulf serves as, “a vital wintering or
resting spot for nearly three quarters of America’s waterfowl, and is a
major spawning area for the endangered Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna,”
reports WWF.  Sadly, the spill occurred around the height of the
migratory season for birds and other wildlife, which could prove
extremely fatal to these populations. 

An especially threatened
species, however, is one that does not migrate–the Gulf’s sperm
whales.  National Geographic News reports that, because this fragile
species exists only in the Gulf of Mexico, if the oil spill kills only
three sperm whales, “it could seriously endanger the long-term survival
of the Gulf’s native whale population.”

This spill not only has many
harmful effects on individual species, but on the health and
functionality of an entire ecosystem. 

Michelle for My Wonderful World

2 thoughts on “Gulf of Mexico’s Oil Spill Impact Intrigues Geographers

  1. This is a really good site for informations about the oil spills. I love this site!

  2. Well, over 80 days now and there is no real end in sight. They ‘hope’ the new cap will work, but that doesn’t seem likely! I can’t help to think that this could have been avoided if our Govt wasn’t chasing the money! Wake up America!!

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