On April 20, 2010, one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the Gulf of Mexico began to unfold as the well known as the Deepwater Horizon exploded and oil began to spill into the gulf. The well was capped in July of that year and finally cemented and sealed in September after a side well was drilled. The total amount of oil released was 4.4 million barrels. Costs were set at $40 billion. And recently the judicial system determined how the fines paid by BP will be distributed among the Gulf States. The RESTORE Act dedicates 80 percent of all administrative and civil penalties related to the Deepwater Horizon spill to a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund and outlines a structure by which the funds can be utilized to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands, and economy of the Gulf Coast region. Some of the first restoration dollars are being dispersed to the states impacted.
So what were the birds that were impacted and do we know what the long term effects are? From the monitoring that was conducted beginning in the summer of 2010, we know what species were affected. GCBO was responsible for monitoring the Texas coastline. We and our partners spent many days traveling the transects and fortunately we did not find oiled birds. But the story was very different for the other Gulf States. In the order of the most to the least, these were the species with the highest number of oiled or dead birds recovered: Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, Northern Gannet, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Least Tern, Common Loon, and Sandwich Tern. Other species whose recovered numbers were smaller but still of great concern are Piping Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Red Knot, Seaside Sparrow, and Clapper Rail. No one knows what the long term effect is of a bird being oiled, cleaned and released. However, research is continuing and perhaps we will someday have more insight. For us at GCBO, we are focusing on what we can do to ensure restoration dollars are spent cleaning up our coastlines and rebuilding our wetlands. Our current research projects are centered on coastal birds, the Whooping Crane and American Oystercatcher.
Birds are a part of the entire ecosystem. To fully restore the natural resources of the Gulf, restoration must take a comprehensive approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of our ecosystem – this means addressing everything from freshwater inflows to our estuaries to our offshore marine environment. Currently GCBO is working on a proposal with our site partners in the 5 Gulf States for the bird species that were most impacted by the oil spill. Basing restoration on science is of upmost importance and will lead to a healthy environment for generations to come.
By: Carol Jones