April 20th marked the one year anniversary of the BP oil disaster. It was one of the greatest and most tragic environmental disasters in history. Although oil seepage is natural (about 5000 barrels a day seep through ocean vents in the Gulf of Mexico) the added oil caused devastating effects. (It has been estimated that between 35,000 and 60,000 gallons of oil seeped into the ocean every day the well was uncapped.) Although news reports of the disaster have disappeared, one has to wonder if the effects of the disaster on the Gulf Coast have.
It has been estimated that a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil seeped out the broken well and into the ocean with a portion of it reaching the coastline. In order to break up the oil, about 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersants were applied directly to the well. Oil on the ocean’s surface was burned and workers who were sent to clean up the spill may have inadvertently left traces of oil in the wetlands. Birds, turtles and fish were covered in the thick sticky substance. The marshlands where these creatures fed and lived were covered in oil as well.
Despite this, scientists have discovered that much of the oil that was spilled into the Gulf has disappeared. Scientists attribute the disappearance and dispersement of the oil to several things. The 1.84 million gallons of dispersant broke down the globs of oil into smaller pieces for bacteria to break down and water to dissolve. Once the oil was broken down, bacteria digested the oil and methane that remained. The rest of the oil was trapped beneath the ocean’s surface. Some of it has become embedded in the ocean floor while some of it washed up onto the shore.
Although it’s been a year, the full and long term effects of the BP oil spill are unknown. Scientists are unsure of the effects the spill will further have on marine life and people alike. Dead sea turtles and dolphins have washed up on shore 10 times more frequently than their normal rate. Thousands of birds and hundreds of dolphins and sea turtles have died. Crab larva also have traces of oil in them. The coral reefs in the area have been damaged and plankton and fish have absorbed the oil. In addition to this, carcinogens have been found in the ocean due to the spill. As for people, no serious health effects have been reported. However, many workers, volunteers, and fisherman have reported coughing, skin and eye irritation, headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pain in their arms, backs, and legs. These symptoms could be attributed to chemical exposure.
Despite this, scientists do have evidence that conditions in the Gulf Coast have improved. The marshes that were covered in oil have decreased from 430 miles of shoreline to about 150 miles of shoreline. Birds and turtles that were rescued from the spill are slowly being rehabilitated back to health. The FDA has deemed seafood from the Gulf of Mexico safe to eat. As previously stated, there haven’t been any serious health effects cited when it comes to humans.
As you can see, the BP oil spill has caused a lot of damage to the Gulf of Mexico. Despite this, the area is slowly recovering. There is still a lot to learn about the effects the disaster will have on marine life and people. In addition, more needs to be done to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.