When the BP-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering a massive oil spill, no one knew that a bad situation would only get worse. As the spill rages on, it has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history - topping the Exxon Valdez disaster, which occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989. And it's going to get a lot worse for the environment and wildlife who call the Gulf of Mexico "home."
An Environmental Catastrophe
BP has stated that the oil spill is "an environmental catastrophe," and scientists and wildlife rescuers couldn't agree more. The daily scene of birds coated in oil and marine animals floating lifeless in the oily waters has environmentalists ordering BP to be more candid about the wildlife casualties. In fact, the head of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) - Larry Schweiger - recently argued during a press conference that the devastation underscores the need for the federal government to assume more direct oversight over the clean-up efforts by BP.
"It's quite a spectacle out there to see what's taking place and the damage being done," he said. "We were passing through a mile [long] oil slick that was as heavy as I have seen anywhere. There was no one out there cleaning it. No one out there measuring it."
And those paying the price are the wildlife.
The Silent Killer
In nature, oil is an adaptable killer. It can smother marsh grass, cutting them off from necessary sunlight and air. Oil can also cover the small animals that make up a coral reef. Most recognizably, it sticks to birds' feathers and clumps them, leaving them unable to fly. If birds try to remove the oil, it is ingested, poisoning the bird.
For now, scientists believe the worst effects remain in one corner of the Louisiana coast. However, concern lies in what they are not seeing. Some birds and sea mammals affected by the spill may die far offshore and never be found. As of May 29, the official count has been staggering:
- Of 440 birds, 393 of them are dead, the rest captured alive
- Dozens of turtles and dolphins have been found dead
- Hundreds of dead jellyfish have been found floating in the waters
And this may be just a fraction of the total animals impacted. Take the brown pelican for example, Louisiana's state bird, which may die at sea before any humans can try and help them. Others may fall with the oily marshes or be eaten by predators looking for food in murky waters, which of course, will also prove fatal.
Parks in Trouble
The wildlife of the Gulf is not the only thing in trouble. Many wildlife refuges, national parks, and state parks are now in big trouble thanks to the oil spill. Oil has indeed reached the shores and will continue to destroy the shores and land around. Here are the big ones in trouble:
- Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi and Florida
- Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
- Everglades National Park, Florida
- Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
- Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Key West National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
- Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
- Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
- Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana
- Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
- Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi and Alabama
- Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida
How Can You Help
Much help is needed during this crisis and the need will only grow as time pushes on. Here are a few ways in which you can help:
Donate: Numerous campaigns are helping to clean up the mess.
The National Park Foundation: Donate online or donate by texting "PARKS" to 90999 on your mobile phone by July 1st. Your money will go DIRECTLY to the parks impacted by the Gulf oil spill.
The National Wildlife Federation: Donate online or donate by texting "WILDLIFE" to 20222 on your mobile phone. $10 will go directly to the NWF.
Volunteer for the Cleanup Efforts: The National Wildlife Federation is helping coordinate the on-the-ground volunteer effort. You could be a part of a Gulf Coast Surveillance Team, and monitor the coastline for wildlife in distress
Speak Up for Cleaner Energy Choices: Write to your senators to pass comprehensive legislation that provides America with cleaner and safer energy choices.
- Help Spread the Word: If you are on the ground in the Gulf, share your photos and videos of the impacted area on Flickr by tagging them SPILL_NW10.