Will oil bring death to Gulf’s rich web of life?
By Kate Spinner
VENICE, La. – For birds, fish, sea turtles, marine mammals and ocean-based economies on the Gulf coast, the immediate catastrophe from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has ebbed, but the long-term effects have yet to unfold.
Everything, from shrimp fleets in Louisiana to chicken wings in Buffalo, hinges on the health of tiny plants and animals at risk from oil lingering in the environment. Undetectable by sight or smell, trace amounts of degraded oil are poisoning these species, called plankton, at the bottom of the food chain, scientists say.
The extent of the damage and its implications for the health of the Gulf are unknown and likely will not surface for another year or two.
But the stakes are significant, because plankton provide vital food for shrimp and fish.
For example, plankton feed menhaden, a fish harvested widely in the Mississippi Delta for fishmeal. And fishmeal is a key ingredient in feed for farm-raised catfish, chickens and pigs. That is just one way in which the oil spill’s damage to the Gulf could ripple to dinner tables across the nation.
The spill occurred during spawning season for most fish, shrimp and crab species, an almost certain death sentence for any of their young that encountered oil. Oil on the sea floor, trapped in marshes, buried on sandy beaches and floating in dispersed plumes will continue to kill, deform or sicken a variety of other species, from algae to birds, in varying stages of maturity.
“When you are perturbing the food web from its foundation, the ultimate ecological response could be catastrophic,” said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science. Read more..