Category Archive 'Gulf Recovery'

22 Jul 2010

Gulf Soon to Recover From Oil Spill

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The London Times recently made its content subscription-only (instantly losing 90% of its readership), but Matt Ridley put up his own editorial here (unfortunately, in one of the ugliest blog formats I’ve ever seen), advising readers not to believe all of the media’s environmentalist gloom and doom.

[D]o not underestimate nature’s powers of recovery. After most big oil spills, scientists are pleasantly surprised by how quickly the oil disappears and the marine life reappears. This is true even in Alaska, where the sheltered waters, low temperatures and abundant wildlife conspired to make the slick damaging and persistent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says on its website: `What scientists have found is that, despite the gloomy outlook in 1989, the intertidal habitats of Prince William Sound have proved to be surprisingly resilient.’ A scientist who led some of the research into the Exxon Valdez says that `Thoughts that this is going to kill the Gulf of Mexico are just wild overreactions’.

When the Braer went aground off Shetland in 1993 and spilled 85,000 tonnes of oil, storms quickly dispersed the oil, so the effect on most of the local wildlife was barely measurable. As one scientific report drily noted, after running through a list of undetected effects on birds, shore life and seabed creatures, `five otters were found dead in the oil spill area. However, three of these were killed by vehicles, one was recovered before the oil could have reached it and the cause of mortality of the fifth did not appear to be oil contamination.’ (One of the road kills was allegedly caused by a television crew’s car.)

This rapid recovery was also a signature of the last big Gulf rig spill, the Ixtoc 1 disaster off Mexico in 1979. Although the number of turtles took decades to recover, much of the rest of the wildlife bounced back fairly rapidly. `To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades’, Luis Soto of the National Autonomous University of Mexico told a newspaper this year. `But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again.’ The warm waters and strong sunshine of the Gulf of Mexico are highly conducive to the chemical decomposition of oil by `photo-oxidation’, and are stuffed full of organisms that actually like to eat the stuff – in moderation.

Indeed, the sea floor in the Gulf is rich in `cold seeps’ — communities of tube worms and other organisms that live off oil naturally seeping from beneath the seabed. (The annual flow of oil through such seeps is about half the total spill.) Hundreds of these clusters of clams and tube worms have been found since the 1980s in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, living off the microbes that eat the oil.

Such ecosystems are not equipped to cope with being inundated with so much oil even if it is their food, but one Texas scientist told the New York Times that `the gulf is such a great fishery because it’s fed organic matter from oil…it’s pre-adapted to crude oil. The image of this spill being a complete disaster is not true.’

Read the whole thing.


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