News / USA

    Gushing Oil Threatens Wildlife, Gulf Ecosystem

    Aquatic life, birds vulnerable to toxic effects of oil

    Raccoon Island, a protected bird breeding sanctuary south of Louisiana, is one of several islands being surveyed for oil debris.
    Raccoon Island, a protected bird breeding sanctuary south of Louisiana, is one of several islands being surveyed for oil debris.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Rosanne Skirble

    The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster comes during spring spawning season, an especially bad time for aquatic life making them extraordinarily vulnerable to the toxic effects of the oil itself, says Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

    "Now the same thing is happening with birdlife migrating to and from the tropics. Those that have completed their migrations in the Gulf region are nesting and are beginning to feed this year's crop of migratory birds."

    As the oil gushes from the broken well head at the sea floor, Rader says it has the potential to contaminate each layer of the water column that, "directly exposes those animals to toxicity, at the surface including the very sensitive surface zones where not only sea turtles and marine mammals and sea birds can be oiled, but also where the highways for fish larvae exist. And then as it rains back into the abyss over a much wider area carrying toxicants back into the deep sea where ancient corals and other sensitive ecosystems exist."

    Limited choices

    One response strategy has been to use dispersants or anti-freeze-like chemicals to break the oil up into smaller globules.

    Those particles mix more readily with water, and sink. Rader says dispersants are being sprayed from airplanes and - for the first time - pumped directly into the deep ocean unsure of its effects.

    Aerial images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill taken from a US Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft.
    Aerial images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill taken from a US Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft.

    It is a choice, he says, between two bad options. While the chemicals may protect birds and other wildlife by dissipating the slick before it reaches shore, their toxicity in the Gulf could harm fish and other marine life.

    Judith Dowell, a biologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and an expert on oil spill contamination, says it is important to understand the nature of the oil in order to predict its ecological effects.

    "If a lot of it is very light material, it is going to vaporize. If a lot of it is heavy material, it may precipitate to the bottom. In the meantime, you have these medium molecular weight compounds that are dispersing within the water column. Until you can get some very accurate measurements of the depth of the slick and the geographical extent of the slick, it's not easy to do."

    Widening threat

    The slick threatens sensitive coastal wetlands, areas critical to wildlife.

    Barrier islands and wetlands also serve to buffer towns on the coast from hurricanes and storm surges. Doug Rader with the Environmental Defense Fund says the spill may finally force coastal communities to put more adequate plans and safeguards in place to prevent an off shore disaster in the future.

    Workers clean up oil along a beach at South Pass, La. May 11, 2010 near where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
    Workers clean up oil along a beach at South Pass, La. May 11, 2010 near where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.

    "There are thousands of wells in the Gulf. There are 35,000 miles [56,000 kilometers] of pipeline in the Gulf," says Rader. "It is pretty clear that the status quo in terms of investment to prevent risk and to respond to events wasn't adequate and that some retrofitting of that entire infrastructure is necessary to be able to sustain the current level of production in the Gulf."

    Rethinking offshore drilling?

    Rader says the time is also ripe to rethink the wisdom of offshore drilling in favor of other energy options in the face of climate change.

    "That going forward with a more balanced portfolio of energy sources that begins to address the global problem of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions and threatening coastal areas like coastal Louisiana by rising seas and intensifying storms has to be a piece of the mix."

    Graphic depicting the Riser Insertion Tube method to contain oil leaking from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon Well.
    Graphic depicting the Riser Insertion Tube method to contain oil leaking from the riser of the Deepwater Horizon Well.

    To this end, on May 12, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced long-awaited climate and energy legislation.

    The bill covers a broad cross-section of the nation's top environmental and energy issues, from expanded nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration, to giving states veto power over drilling within 120 kilometers off shore if, in the language of the proposed law, "they stand to suffer significant adverse impacts in the event of an accident."

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora