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Oil spill threatens endangered species at a critical time

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The true impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico won’t be known for weeks—if not months or years—but already the spreading oil presents a danger to the region’s threatened and endangered species.

One of the first species to face risk could be the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), which has just entered its breeding season on Louisiana’s coastal islands, including the Chandeleur Islands, which the oil reached over the weekend. The brown pelican was just removed from the endangered species list last year.

Meanwhile, it’s an important season in the Gulf for migratory birds; hundreds of species pass through the region at this time of year. In fact, this coming Sunday, May 9, is International Migratory Bird Day, an event intended to celebrate and call attention to the birds passing through North America every year. But with waters and coastal regions already feeling the impact of the oil spill, all of those birds could be at risk.

According to a report from the Environmental News Service, endangered and threatened bird species immediately at risk include the least tern (Sternula antillarum), piping plover (Charadrius melodus), Wilson’s plover (C. wilsonia) and American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates).

As demonstrated by the Exxon Valdez and other oil spills, crude oil interferes with a bird’s ability to keep itself warm and can be fatal when ingested. It is almost impossible for an oil-covered animal to clean itself off. The first oiled bird, a northern gannet, was captured on Friday and is currently being treated.

Meanwhile, one of the world’s most endangered species of sea turtles, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), is about to enter its primary nesting season. The spread of oil could interfere with the Kemp’s ridley’s foraging and migration routes. The species only nests in the western Gulf. Four other species of endangered or threatened sea turtles also live in the area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has mobilized several efforts to protect species in the Gulf. Full information is available here.

Photo: Brown pelican, via US Fish and Wildlife Service


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  1. 1. candide 3:00 pm 05/3/2010

    The effects of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska can still be seen. Just dig a few inches in the sand and oil/tar will be encountered.

    This could go on for MONTHS.

    The effects of this spill will not be completely gone for many decades.

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  2. 2. whatever 11:55 am 05/16/2010

    Uh huh, and we have been seriously lacking a strong response from the environmentalists and science community showing a clear lack of voice over BP and gov’t officials trying to cover-up the disaster. Such headlines persist such as "oil may be hiding beneath the surface" and other mind control techniques to make people think this disaster is inconsequential.

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  3. 3. eco-steve 2:09 pm 05/18/2010

    Perhaps a possible method of limiting the oil damage would be to disseminate zeolites across the surface of the area, so they would slowly sink absorbing hydrocarbons as they go. You would need as much zeolite as there is oil, so that would require some careful estimates, and would have to be paid for too. Zeolites have absorption as well as detergent properties, and are currently used by all oil refineries, so should be available in quantity.

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  4. 4. wildsyrinx 12:04 am 05/29/2010

    An offshore drilling rig prophetically named,
    " Deep Water Horizon" where we are watching the horizon for the beginning of extinction of all of life on earth.

    Link to this

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