Environmental cost of Gulf oil spill

Environmental cost of Gulf oil spill

Updated: 15:45, Sunday April 17, 2011

Environmental cost of Gulf oil spill

Pelicans coated in oil became one of the defining images of the impact the Gulf of Mexico disaster had on the marine and coastal environment in the region.

Despite a massive effort to curb the effects of about 4.9 million barrels of oil pouring into the sea after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 65 kilometres off the Louisiana coast, hundreds of kilometres of coastline were affected, fisheries were closed for months and wildlife hit by oil slicks.

And a year on, the environmental impacts and the efforts to restore the Gulf of Mexico are continuing.

In a bid to contain the oil and protect the coastline of the US Gulf states, which include fragile ecosystems such as marshlands and kilometres of beaches, about 4000km of booms were deployed.

Offshore, more than 400 fires to burn off the oil were set, and about 8.36 million litres of dispersant were used to break the oil into smaller droplets which would degrade more easily, despite concerns raised by marine pollution experts that such measures could be more damaging to the environment than the oil itself.

On land, BP said it had deployed ‘sand sharks’, machines to clean tar balls and tar mats from the beaches, while volunteers also manually cleaned beaches.

Along the coast, rehabilitation centres were set up to care for hundreds of stricken birds and animals, including endangered species such as Kemp’s ridley turtles.

American officials say that in the nine months following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, more than 2000 oil-covered birds were found dead and a similar number were found alive, while almost 500 sea turtles, mostly alive, were found obviously oiled.

Many more dead animals turned up which were not outwardly covered in oil but could have died from ingesting it and environmentalists warn still more would have died without being recovered.

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