One Year Later: The Oil Spill's Effects on Marine Life

By: Sandra Osborne Email
By: Sandra Osborne Email

Panama City- April 20, 2010 was only the beginning to, what scientists call, one of the biggest disasters to happen to the Gulf of Mexico.

With millions of gallons of oil leaking out into the Gulf, what are some of the impacts we've seen on marine life over the past year?

"Usually when you have these dramatic events, you don't know much immediately. It takes a long time for things to pan out and even longer for us to put things in perspective," said Ernst Peebles, a researcher and an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida.

Immediately, scientists saw the effects on sea turtles in the area as more than 1,000 turtles were covered in oil and another 300 were killed.

One of the animals many scientists didn't expect to see affected were bottle nose dolphins, but they are now getting some surprising information.

"Recently there was the issue of young dolphins washing ashore and that wasn't predicted, but it makes sense given the fact that this is the time of year when they give birth," said Peebles.

While oil hasn't been proven to be the cause of death for dolphin calves, scientists say nearly 70 dolphins were affected or killed due to the oil spill.

Blue Fin Tuna is a fish population scientists are keeping a close eye on.

Researchers from USF’s Marine Science Lab are afraid blue fin tuna could be wiped out much like herring in Alaska after the Exxon-Valdez spill.

"Atlantic blue fin tuna spawn almost exactly where the oil rig exploded and those babies and eggs are in the water column for a matter of months so we're very concerned about the status of blue fin tuna, said Dr. Steve Murawski from USF.

Through all of the negative, there is still some possible good news for fish eggs in the Gulf.

"We know that in some areas of the Gulf that were effected by the spill that fish eggs continued to develop. They may have abnormalities that I didn't detect, but that was a good sign," said Peebles.

All in all, there is a lot we won't know for quite some time.

"History will be our judge whether we created some long term environmental problems that we don't know about yet by using dispersants or if we avoided even worse in shore problems on marshes and beaches," said Murawski.

"You see what might be counter-intuitive effects. After they happen, you say 'oh that makes sense'. We understand the linkages that occurred to cause that effect, but you can't anticipate them necessarily. We have to expect the unexpected."

Scientists went on to say a hurricane through the Gulf of Mexico could also stir up pockets of oil potentially causing more damage to marine life and habitats.

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  • by I. Arlyin Location: Florida on Apr 23, 2011 at 09:06 PM
    I believe there are pockets of oil lying on the ocean floor way down under the warer.I believe it settled down in low lying cracks and crevices. When we have a real turbalant storm and the water gets all stirred up, then we will have oil once again on our beaches. I don't think it's all said and done.
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