Filed under: Threats to biodiversity
*Data from U.S Fish and Wildlife Service
…that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” -Joni Mitchell
I’ve been procrastinating writing a post on the oil spill. My thoughts about it are just too overwhelming to articulate. It is a disaster. At this point, we cannot even guess at the magnitude of this catastrophe; we are getting better estimates (??) of the amount of oil released but still don’t know how far it will travel and how it will be chemically and physically transformed.
These questions are too big for me to tackle. Instead, I will do what I do best — focus on some of the organisms that are, or will be, affected by one of the greatest environmental disasters of our time.
If you haven’t seen the pictures yet of what is going on above the surface, then you’re not paying attention. But what about the organisms we can’t see? For example, just last year, Prosanta Chakrabarty, an ichthyologist at Louisiana State University, discovered two new species of pancake batfish in museum collections and later caught specimens of both during bottom trawls in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We’re unlikely to see these guys on the cover of Time Magazine next to oil-covered Brown Pelicans, but they are pretty charismatic in their own right. They are found hanging around at depths down to 400 meters, hopping along the sea floor on their pelvic fins instead of swimming. With an unknown amount of oil below the surface encroaching on their habitat, it is questionable whether these newly-discovered animals will be able to weather the impact.
In the last few weeks, 228 dead sea turtles and 29 dead marine mammals have been found in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil-slicked Brown Pelican, a bird that has come back from the brink , has become a poignant symbol of this tragedy. And what about the clams, mussels, and corals that live on the deep sea floor of the gulf? Or the polychaete tubeworms that can grow up to several meters long and can live for centuries? The marsh grasses and organisms that reside in the coastal sediment?
And yes, I am well aware of the consequences of the spill on human health and well-being, and the livelihoods of so many people….but that is a topic for another day.
For now, click here to read more on the “Science of the Oil Spill”