5 Ways the Gulf Spill Has Impacted Wildlife
The Gulf Coast serves as the habitat for many types of reptiles. These reptiles require the coast because it provides them shelter and a source of food. It also serves as their breeding grounds. For sea turtles like the green turtle and the loggerhead, nesting season looms. It is clear that these animals will not be able to breed normally. There will be changes, but the long-term affect of those changes remains a mystery.
Most varieties of fish are highly mobile within their environment, and thus able to avoid at least the initial affects of the spill. However, the oil exposure is lethal to the eggs and larvae of marine animals, and in these stages, they are not yet mobile enough to avoid it. Scientists expect fluctuations in fish populations, but to what extent, it is not yet clear. Despite their mobility, there will be an effect on adult populations. Traces of oil in the water will break down their immune systems over time.
Like fish, marine animals have been able to avoid the spill in some ways. However, mammals like the bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales must come up for air. When they do, they often come into contract with the fumes and oil on the surface of the water. On the shore, there are semi-aquatic and terrestrial animals like rabbits, mink, and otters, which are losing their food sources and habitats.
It is with the birds that we have been able to witness the greatest damage. Animals such as the pelican and egret are losing buoyancy and their ability to keep warm. In the short-term, this can mean death. If they manage to survive, the long-term brings lesions, liver damage, ulcers, and other life-threatening conditions. Unfortunately, there is more tragedy in store for the Gulf Coast as it serves as a critical stopover for a large variety of migratory birds.
The Gulf region provides 20% of U.S. commercial seafood production. It also produces 75% of U.S. shrimp output, 40% of oysters, and 35% of blue craw crabs. However, the spill will devastate the populations of these animals, and officials must shut down vital fishing areas in order to test for contamination. The damage doesnít end with the fishing areas. Oil is compromising the soil via the marshes and wetlands. The oil is reducing the growth of marsh grass, which is a vital food source for wildlife throughout the area.
Sadly, these five effects are just the beginning. In the days to come, scientists will study the effects more thoroughly. The answers they uncover are certain to be awe-inspiring and heart wrenching.