Protected Species in Gulf of Mexico Could Take Decades to Recover From Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Research released last month suggested that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill caused $17.2 billion in damages to the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources — and a slew of other recent studies provide even more detail on just how severe those impacts were for many of the protected marine mammal and sea turtle species found in the Gulf.

What started as a blowout at an ultra-deepwater well operated by British oil major BP on April 20, 2010 led to an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig and ultimately the largest offshore oil spill in United States history. The well would not be successfully capped for another 87 days, by which time approximately 3.19 million barrels (or 134 million gallons) of oil had spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. That oil contaminated more than 112,000 square kilometers (over 43,200 square miles) of surface waters and fouled 2,100 kilometers (a little over 1,300 miles) of shoreline in five states.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill also killed thousands of marine mammals and sea turtles in the Gulf, according to findings detailed in a special issue of the journal Endangered Species Research published in January, comprised of 20 studies that collectively represent more than five years’-worth of data collection and analysis by scientists with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and their partners.

“This extensive oiling contaminated vital foraging, migratory, and breeding habitats of protected marine species (e.g. sea turtles and marine mammals) at the surface, in the water column, and on the ocean bottom throughout the northern [Gulf of Mexico],” the editors of the special issue write in an overview paper.

In a statement, NOAA offered this succinct summation of the results of the studies: “The research indicates that populations of several marine mammal and sea turtle species will take decades to rebound. Significant habitat restoration in the region will also be needed.”

NOAA scientists used a variety of…

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