Posted on 10 November 2010.
Dead and dying corals near the site of the BP oil disaster, courtesy of NOAA
How are coral reefs near ground zero of BP’s oil disaster faring only four months after the capping of the tragic spill? According to a report released by a team of federal researchers, not good. Biologist Charles Fisher said that the team had “discovered a community of coral that has been impacted fairly recently by something very toxic,” according to UPI News. USA Today released photos taken by the researchers’ discovery showing the extent of the damage.
The Wall Street Journal reported that “other researchers said they found sediment on the sea floor several miles from the BP well that was covered in a substance that appeared to be oil.” While it’s not still certain that the BP oil spill caused the damage to the reef, AOL News reports Fisher said “the compelling evidence that [was] collected constitutes a smoking gun.”
A remotely operated vehicle collects samples of damaged coral, courtesy of NOAA
Coral reefs are made up of thousands of tiny animals called invertebrates – animals without a backbone like snails and ants. New corals build their “skeletons” on those of dead corals from earlier generations. This process – the generations and generations of coral colonies – creates the limestone skeletons that form the framework of the beautiful reef. But many stresses can impact reef health: waste water runoff, hazardous material spills, boat strikes, and bleaching due to rising water temperature and climate change are all deadly to coral reefs.
What you can do:
Help protect coral reefs, endangered sea turtles and other marine wildlife from harmful offshore drilling. Urge your senators today to support the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act (S. 3663)
Learn more about the threats facing coral reefs from Defenders’ board member Jeff Corwin in our special video “Feeling the Heat.”
Posted in Experts, Features, Marine Animals, Offshore Drilling, Southeast
Posted on 20 August 2010.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have detected a plume of hydrocarbons that is at least 22 miles long and more than 3,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, a residue of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In the study released yesterday in Science, researchers measured petroleum hydrocarbons in the plume and determined that the source of the plume could not have been natural oil seeps but had to have come from the blown out well.
The study adds to the controversy over how much oil is still in the Gulf ecosystem from the spill (NBC). It also challenges US government estimates that natural processes were rapidly breaking down the toxic crude, as report authors said deep-sea microbes were degrading the plume only slowly and predicted the oil would endure for some time (AFP).
Chris Haney, chief scientist for Defenders of Wildlife said, “The report released yesterday in Science is as innovative as it is sobering. WHOI is to be commended for deploying a sophisticated array of methods to document the vast extent and unexpectedly slow degradation of hydrocarbons released into the deep Gulf environment.
“Along with a University of Georgia study that refutes a flawed government analysis put out to disguise the real fate of the oil, the two recent studies ought to convince the media, the administration and the American public that credible science trumps spin every time.”
For weeks, BP disputed claims from scientists that a huge plume of dispersed oil droplets had formed in the gulf, with its chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward, declaring at one point, “There aren’t any plumes.” (NYT)
Posted in In the News, Offshore Drilling, Southeast
Posted on 17 August 2010.
Join Defenders of Wildlife board member Jeff Corwin as he continues to document how the Gulf oil disaster will impact wildlife in the region. In this Nightly News piece with MSNBC’s Brian Williams, Jeff dives right in to check on the health of the largest fish on the planet: the whale shark.
They may be large (growing up to 40 feet in length!), but whale sharks are gentle giants, feeding mostly on plankton filtered through their enormous mouths. Feeding at the base of the food chain, they are at great risk in a still oil-stricken Gulf. However, the sharks are also a great indicator species for the health of the entire Gulf ecosystem. By affixing tracking devices to their fins, researchers can follow the fish and the depth at which they swim.
“Now that this whale shark has been fitted with transmitters, we’ll now know if it’s coming into harm’s way.” Jeff explains from the water.
Posted in Features, Offshore Drilling, Southeast, Video
Posted on 06 August 2010.
See an interview with Defenders chief scientist Chris Haney as he reflects on his recent trip down to the Gulf, carrying out a project aboard NOAA’s ”Nancy Foster” as part of an official federal response to the Gulf oil disaster. Chris was looking for the kinds of damages that marine life had experienced as a result of the spill, specifically signs of oiling, signs of distress, any carcasses or dead birds and the general abundance of seabirds found very far away from land.
“Looking at the oil as the sun broke the horizon, it was a rainbow sheen of oil as far as you could see. It was, quite honestly, the ugliest ocean water I’ve ever seen.”
Posted in Features, Offshore Drilling, Southeast, Video
Posted on 26 July 2010.
It has now been a few days since I returned home from the science expedition aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster. Here in Washington, DC, the heat is even more oppressive than it was down there on the Gulf coast. Our weekend weather is supposed to top 100 degrees. Re-entering terrestrial life itself takes a surprising bit of adjusting, especially diving so abruptly into the frantic pace that drives all modern life.
Scarcely have I caught up on rest, unpacked equipment, and backed up data, and it is time to do it all over again. There are two NOAA expeditions heading into the Gulf and departing before the end of July. Only this time it would not be me going along: I had hired two observers to go instead. One was to depart Pascagoula on July 24; the other was leaving out of Key West on July 29.
Tropical Storm Bonnie, courtesy of NOAA
But now, a newly formed Tropical Storm, called “Bonnie,” is aiming at both departure ports! Each observer is jittery when we speak by phone. And not because they are worried about the waves, swell and wind. Rather, they are afraid the ships won’t go at all, that the projects will be canceled. Disappointment in their voices prompts me to offer faith-based platitudes that the research is too important to ditch, and the ships will indeed get out eventually. I understand such enthusiasm for exploration all too well.
Some readers may wonder why I’ve not talked in more detail about the seabird results, at least those I’ve been able to interpret so far between all of the logistical juggling. All science relies upon external review, so I’m reluctant to draw firm conclusions without critical input from my peers. But there is another reason for my reticence. Some of these data may be sensitive because of their evidentiary value in gauging the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is a right way and a wrong way to disclose such information, and I certainly wish to the do the former.
What I can say is that I am barely able to contain excitement over the preliminary results. I spent two evenings this week plotting locations of seabirds that we encountered along the research track of the Nancy Foster. These locations were then superimposed on various maps of the Gulf’s oceanographic features. Despite the ocean looking flat and featureless to our eyes, it is neither. Satellites and shipboard sensors show that seabirds in the eastern Gulf of Mexico pick their locations smartly. It would be bitter irony indeed if their foraging skill in finding these feeding hotspots puts them at risk of injury through oil contamination.
Posted in Offshore Drilling, Southeast
Posted on 18 July 2010.
Neuston nets are used to catch small fish and other sea life within a few inches of the ocean surface
Samuel Johnson once remarked, “Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” There is practically no risk of the latter nowadays; there are far too many safety precautions and back-ups. But a sense of confinement can be quite real on the largest of research vessels. Seasoned mariners find ways to cope, or at least put off this reckoning.
Today is our last day, however, and everyone senses that this temporary detention is nearly over. Everyone is eagerly awaiting arrival into Pascagoula around 3 this afternoon. Words like “pizza” and “beer” are spoken with special reverence. After all, most of the crew and science team have been at sea for almost three weeks. Read the full story
Posted in Birds, Features, Offshore Drilling, Southeast