Exquisite marine species in dire jeopardy from BP's Gulf oil spill
The Gulf of Mexico, with its unique marine ecosystems, is being assaulted each day as millions of gallons of oil bleed into the water, killing all life.
Wed, Jun 02, 2010 at 10:12 AM
TROUBLED WATERS: Could the sawfish be wiped out? (Photo: Inanimate Carbon Rod/Flickr)
As the sun peeks over the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on day 43 since BP's Deepwater Horizon well failed, oil and/or dispersant is now 9 miles from Pensacola Beach in Florida. Crude and Corexit dispersant has tainted the barrier islands of Alabama and Mississippi and sullied more than 125 miles of Louisiana’s beaches.
Yesterday, a thick coating of oil was found five miles inland on Louisiana’s marshes, smothering the pneumatophores or breathing above-ground roots sometimes called "knees" of the saltwater mangroves. The effects of oil are deleterious to marsh cane, mangroves and the ancient bald cypresses. Once the vegetation is killed, the soil is easily eroded and dragged out to sea.
The oil spill is significantly jeopardizing the very existence of critters that are at risk or near extinction. For instance, Louisiana’s state bird, the majestic brown pelican, recently was delisted from the endangered species list but will very likely be relisted from this catastrophe.
It is heartbreaking to see this masterpiece of a bird — likened to a B-52 bomber with its seven-feet wingspan — drenched in oil. As the birds struggle to remove the oil by attempting to clean themselves, they ingest oil and die a slow and very painful death.
The critically endangered western Atlantic bluefin is the most prized and rare fish left on the globe. It accelerates faster than a Ferrari and warms its blood through an ingenious heat exchange system.
The bluefin tuna spends about 10 months a year in the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic and then swims thousands of miles to the area near the Deepwater Horizon well to disseminate sperm and eggs in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters between late April and early June.
The larvae float about 10 to 15 feet below the surface in the early stages of their life. The dispersant and/or oil will kill all fish eggs or larvae that come into contact with it, in addition to all plant life.
It’s a critical habitat, and if we lose this year's population, it will have an enormous impact on a population of western Atlantic bluefin tuna that is on the verge of extinction.
Two species of sawfish, which were once widespread in U.S. waters, could be wiped out completely when more of the BP oil blowout and Corexit dispersant reach the Loop Current carrying more poison.
The smalltooth sawfish has already been protected since 2003, and if the largetooth sawfish even exists along the Gulf Coas,t the oil spill will finish them off.
The smalltooth once swam in bays, lagoons and rivers extending from New York to the Rio Grande, Texas. They are now confined to the lower Florida peninsula — habitat extending from Charlotte Harbor on the southwest of the Gulf Coast of Florida though the Ten Thousand Islands area of the Everglades into Florida Bay and the Keys.
Many of these animals breed in the oil spill area.
Sawfish are unusual fish with some of nature's most intimidating snouts.
The snout, more correctly called a rostrum, is shaped like a saw and lined with sharp teeth, which the animals use to slash fiercely at prey that swims by. The sawtooth's fearsome, long, toothy snout is also used to unearth crustaceans, shellfish and other food buried in the bottom.
Although they look like sharks, they are more closely related to rays.
One reason these critters are particularly vulnerable is that they grow very slowly which delays the onset of sexual maturity. They can live for more than 100 years. This strategy of long life has one obvious flaw: It takes these fish populations a lot longer to rebound from disasters like overfishing or oil spills and that assumes they have a population size large enough to breed again.
When their underwater habitat is destroyed, these superb fish have no place to return. The last time the largetooth sawfish was seen in the U.S. was 1961.
Meanwhile, three sperm whales have died so far from the BP oil spill that occurred on April 20.