5 years after BP oil spill, brown pelicans still affected

April 22, 2015, 1 p.m.

This week was the five-year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, considered the worst marine environmental disaster in U.S. waters. The full effects of the disaster are still being studied and experts have yet to learn the full extent of the damage. A National Wildlife Federation report released in March states, "Given the significant quantity of oil remaining on the floor of the Gulf and the unprecedented large-scale use of dispersal during the spill, it will be years or even decades before the full impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is known."

But what is known is that many animal species are still suffering. That includes the brown pelican. According to the report, around 12 percent of the population of brown pelicans in the Gulf were killed by the spill. Additionally, "Birds such as the brown pelican can ingest oil while cleaning their feathers or by consuming contaminated food. Oil exposure can lead to long-term physiological, metabolic, developmental or behavioral effects, which can in turn lead to reduced survival or reproduction. An additional significant threat to brown pelican populations is the ongoing erosion of coastal barrier islands and marsh habitat. This erosion was significantly accelerated in places affected by oil."

Species the report looks at include the bottlenose dolphin, sargassum, the seaside sparrow, the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, coral and the Eastern oyster among others. There is also, of course, the affect on humans. Think Progress reports, "[T]he dispersants used to break up the oil were dangerous, holding carcinogenic pollutants that are soaked up by human skin. Possibly because of those dispersants and the oil itself, the workers that participated in the massive spill response that helped save thousands of animals and ecosystems now face higher risks of sickness and cancer."

"It is clear that robust scientific monitoring of the Gulf ecosystem and its wildlife populations must continue — and that restoration of degraded ecosystems should begin as soon as possible," states the NFW report.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.