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5 Years After Oil Spill: Only Time Will Tell Full Extent of Damage

PHOTO: Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, researchers continue to investigate the effects on the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. A new report finds several species including sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins continue to show signs of trouble. Photo credit: Terry Ross/Flickr.
PHOTO: Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, researchers continue to investigate the effects on the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. A new report finds several species including sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins continue to show signs of trouble. Photo credit: Terry Ross/Flickr.
April 20, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Five years ago today, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, releasing at least 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While the Florida coast still is recovering from the disaster, researchers say it's too soon to know the full extent of the damage.

Biologist Ryan Fikes with the National Wildlife Federation says a new report highlights the ways the spill continues to threaten wildlife in the region. For example, 1,000 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead between the Florida Panhandle and the Texas-Louisiana border.

"Some specific populations were assessed and showed symptoms consistent with oil exposure," says Fikes. "Including lung masses, adrenal problems and reductions in the dolphin's ability to reproduce."

Fikes says their report also found a dramatic decline in Kemp's ridley sea turtles, which are critically endangered and were once rebounding. He says nests dropped by about 35 percent in 2010 and continue to decline annually.

Fikes says the Gulf is incredibly diverse, and any shift or disturbance can have broad implications on the entire ecosystem. He says it will take a long time to know the full impacts of the disaster on the health of wildlife.

"Some of the species are long-lived species, so they will take several years to understand what implications or impacts at the juvenile stage will have at the adult population level," he says. "So in some cases only time will tell."

Fikes says the penalties from the disaster have great potential to restore the Gulf region, and it's critical the funds be spent wisely on projects that will ensure the future health of habitats and wildlife.

"The critical need is comprehensive ecosystem restoration of these coastal habitats which our economies depend on," says Fikes.

A decision by a judge in the federal government's case against BP on the company's Clean Water Act fines is expected soon. BP faces more than $13 billion in fines.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - FL