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Report: Wider Impact from BP Spill

Scientists say the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill was greater than previously thought. Credit: U.S. Navy
Scientists say the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill was greater than previously thought. Credit: U.S. Navy
December 3, 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. – More than five years after millions of gallons of oil flooded into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a clearer picture is developing about the long term impacts to wildlife and their habitats.

The comprehensive plan for restoring the area as part of the settlement involving BP, the federal government and five Gulf Coast states, including Florida, has brought new information to light.

Ryan Fikes, Gulf restoration scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, is among the scientists who combed through hundreds of pages of government documents, and he says the picture that emerged is a disturbing one.

"The damage was much greater than previously understood, and much greater than the public had access to understand,” he states. “The majority of that data, the impacts data resulting from the spill, has been shrouded in the litigation itself. "

Among the findings, Fikes says the disaster killed off between 2 and 5 trillion larval fish, and as many as 8 billion oysters, while nearly all the species of dolphins and whales in the northern Gulf have quantifiable injuries.

The plan calls for more than $8 billion to be used for natural resource restoration over the next 15 years.

Public comment on the plan will be accepted online through Friday.

Fikes says as the bigger picture of the damage now is coming to light, it's all the more important to take a comprehensive approach to the recovery effort.

"The injuries affected such a broad array of resources that they are basically best described as an injury to the entire ecosystem, and therefore cannot necessarily be approached on a species by species basis," Fikes points out.

For example, he says the oil spill impacted at least 93 species of birds, which then has a trickle down effect on food webs throughout the ecosystem.

"Gaps that are created due to impacts from the oil spill are altering the prey items that some of these birds or fin fish are going after,” Fikes says. “There are so many intricate connections in the Gulf."

Because of the extent of the damage, Fikes says the National Wildlife Federation believes the best way to tackle and achieve the recovery outlined in the plan is to begin by focusing on the Gulf's estuaries, which he describes as critical mixing zones for many different species.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL