Gulf oil spill: How can wildlife survive?

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— Think about the oil or gas you put in your car.

Now imagine dumping it in your swimming pool and jumping in.

For sea creatures, including sea turtles, manatees and whales, being covered in oil is as bad as it would be for us: When oil gets on their skin it sticks, when it gets in their lungs it burns and when they ingest it, it hurts their insides.

When sea turtles get oiled, the oil turns into a thick, sticky tar that covers the animal’s limbs, head and shell, said Ryan Butts, director of the Turtle Hospital on Key West.

Sea turtle nesting season started May 1, and as the turtles start to come ashore along Florida’s coasts, oil may affect their health, habitat, nesting and hatching.

Sea turtles breathe at the ocean’s surface, so when they come up to breathe in an oil slick, they’re inhaling oil fumes, covering their face in oil, and often getting oil in their stomach and lungs.

“It’s toxic; it’s the same as if humans drank gasoline, it’s toxic to them,” Butts said.

Turtles have been observed in the oil slick, so there’s no doubt that some have gotten oil on them or swum through it, said Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, based in St. Petersburg and part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It’s already been a tough few months for sea turtles, with 4,500 of them cold-stunned across Florida during the cold snaps, said Foley, who has worked with sea turtles for about 30 years.

It was the worst winter experts have seen for sea turtles, with the previous high being 400.

“Sea turtles are always threatened or endangered, so there are already a lot of problems they face population wise, different factors that are causing too much mortality,” Foley said. “Now we have this additional mortality factor, oil, that’s affecting them as well.”

They can be cleaned, rehabilitated and released, though there often are lingering health concerns, Foley said.

Endangered sea turtles have washed up on beaches since the spill, but authorities aren’t sure what killed them because necropsies haven’t shown signs of oil.

All the species that live in the Gulf are in danger from the oil, Butts said, including the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles that live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, loggerhead turtles, green turtles, and hawksbill turtles.

Collier County staff members have started patrolling the beaches in the mornings looking for sea turtle nests, but there haven’t been any yet, said Maura Kraus, a county environmental specialist.

When the Gulf water temperature warms to about 81 degrees, Kraus expects them to start nesting, and she predicted that it probably would start next week.

In order to protect the turtles, people should avoid the nest sites, and homes and businesses should remove furniture from the beach and control their beach lighting, as it can confuse hatchlings and cause them to move away from the water instead of into the Gulf.

Manatees are another endangered species that could be affected by the spill, but there aren’t any studies that explain exactly how, said John Reynolds, director of the Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory’s center for marine mammal and sea turtle research.

Like sea turtles and other animals, manatees might breathe fumes, ingest oil in contaminated food or get it on their skin, Reynolds said.

The effect of inhalation of oil would depend on how dirty the air and how long they breathe it, he said.

Ingestion might hurt the manatees themselves, or it might kill the organisms in their stomach that help them digest the sea grass they eat.

Oil on the skin probably would be the least detrimental, he said, because manatees, like humans, replace dead skin cells constantly and don’t have a lot of hair for the oil to stick to.

In the summer months as the water temperature rises, manatees disperse all along Florida’s coast, with one of the largest concentrations in Lee County because of available habitat, he said.

Manatees also were greatly affected by the cold winter, and that might make them less able to tolerate the detrimental effects of oil.

The oil also could affect dolphins and whales, because they, like manatees and sea turtles, breathe air at the surface, Reynolds said.

It would be worst for baleen whales, which have baleen filters instead of teeth that could get coated in oil, which would prevent them from eating.

Baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico include the fin whales, minke wales and Bryde’s whales, which may have a segregated population of in the Gulf that doesn’t mix with other populations.

Beyond the immediate effect on the animals themselves, it’s also important to consider the indirect effect of the oil on all sea creatures, Reynolds said.

“Even if there are not direct impacts that kill certain marine mammals, if the habitat that they depend on … is destroyed then they won’t survive,” Reynolds said. “You can’t have an animal if the habitat is gone.”

• To volunteer with the Conservancy emergency response team, contact JoAnn Johansen at joannj@conservancy.org or (239) 403-4212

• If you see or smell pollution related to the oil spill, call the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802

• To report injured wildlife call 1-866-557-1401

• To reach Wildlife Experts authorized to help, contact Tri-State Rescue and Research at (302) 737-7241 or hstout@tristatebird.org

• If you come across dead birds in Florida report it to the state Conservation Commission at http://myfwc.com/bird/

• For more information on oil spill recovery volunteer opportunities, go to http://gulfseagrant.tamu.edu/oilspill/index.htm or www.volunteerflorida.org

• To donate to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and support its efforts to reduce the effects of the oil spill on habitat and wildlife, go to https://www.conservancy.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=478

• For more information on the oil spill and how the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is preparing, go to http://www.conservancy.org/Page.aspx?pid=679

Deepwater Horizon Response Wildlife Hotline: (866) 557-1401, e-mail fw4ppc@fws.gov

National Audubon Society’s list of volunteers: http://www.audubonaction.org

Training and volunteer information for Florida volunteers: Gail Straight (941) 778-6324

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 7

u2cane writes:

I have a question about this whole thing. Is it possible to just destroy this well and plug it with something? Seems to me like BP is trying to come up with ways to salvage this well and it just keeps pumping out oil. If you destroy the well and plug it, won't it stop spewing oil? Is BP being greedy in all this in creating this contraption that will allow them to siphon the oil from it, meanwhile oil keeps spewing until they are able to cap and siphon it. Shouldn't they just be concerned with stopping it from coming out? Why not just stop it and save the Gulf instead of trying to recapture the oil.

u2cane writes:

Yes drop a nuke, that will help the environment for sure.

Fossil writes:

At what point does a corporation consider the common good as an over riding concern over their own profits? The corporation enjoys the status of a "super citizen" and has no natural concern for the enviornment, people or creatures of our planet. Corporations care only about profits. BP has invested a lot of money in this well (and in our Congress), as long as they believe the product is of a value sufficient to justify the expenses of saving it, the drama will continue. The rig that sank was valued at more than 250 million dollars. The two or three corporations that are responsible for this mess have an obligation to their share holders to get the losses back. Once the costs of saving the well exceed expections of the product's value, they will drill an adjoining hole and stuff it full of explosives. Using explosives to stop the oil is a common practice in these cases and could be used at any time. At 5,000 gallons a day they are currently only losing a half million per day, a drop in the bucket when matched to their profits last year.

ajm3s writes:

in response to Fossil:

At what point does a corporation consider the common good as an over riding concern over their own profits? The corporation enjoys the status of a "super citizen" and has no natural concern for the enviornment, people or creatures of our planet. Corporations care only about profits. BP has invested a lot of money in this well (and in our Congress), as long as they believe the product is of a value sufficient to justify the expenses of saving it, the drama will continue. The rig that sank was valued at more than 250 million dollars. The two or three corporations that are responsible for this mess have an obligation to their share holders to get the losses back. Once the costs of saving the well exceed expections of the product's value, they will drill an adjoining hole and stuff it full of explosives. Using explosives to stop the oil is a common practice in these cases and could be used at any time. At 5,000 gallons a day they are currently only losing a half million per day, a drop in the bucket when matched to their profits last year.

Replace "corporation" and "share holder" with government and "profits" with power.

Now reread your comment.

Government does not represent us. In fact the agency that oversees off-shore well drilling (US Minerals Management Service) is rife with incompetence. At least the corporation is creating a product we demand (use) in pursuit of daily activities to earn a living to support families etc.

And you are aware oil is a naturally occuring product that is is found along the California coast but cannot be 'mined" because of envrionmental impact concerns. Are you aware of the total amount of oil that seeps naturally into ocean and land masses?

http://books.nap.edu/html/oil_in_the_...

Perspective matters.

So lets import oil to run our environmentally sensitve cars and trucks and heat our homes, instead of exploring domestic sources because of environmetal concerns. This spill is most likely a result of human error or lack of monitoring, but regardless, my point is it is in no ones interest to take advantage of a catatrophe and there is enough blame to go around for both government as well as private industry.

Fossil writes:

I can't redirect the blame to the government because the government was immasculated by the last administration and it's party's support for all things corporate. All existing regulations were weakened and reduced to "guidelines". Remember the former VP's secret energy meeting? All done for profit and in the name of freedom. Freedom to pollute and ignore common sense or accountability. All enforcement was also thrown out the window. The government has no more control over what the oil company's do because big oil has bought the government. There is no will on the part of our representitives to change the status quo as long as they are paid off. Those who may want to do the right thing can't, because the "no" party refuses to govern. Oil may be a natural occuring resource, but negligence is not. 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of crude flowing from a pipe 6,000 feet down is man caused and not a natural event. You may plead empathy for corporate rule but I prefer to hold those responsible accountable.

Fossil writes:

Excuse me. I meant 5 to 6 thousand barrels a day. Not gallons.

ajm3s writes:

in response to Fossil:

I can't redirect the blame to the government because the government was immasculated by the last administration and it's party's support for all things corporate. All existing regulations were weakened and reduced to "guidelines". Remember the former VP's secret energy meeting? All done for profit and in the name of freedom. Freedom to pollute and ignore common sense or accountability. All enforcement was also thrown out the window. The government has no more control over what the oil company's do because big oil has bought the government. There is no will on the part of our representitives to change the status quo as long as they are paid off. Those who may want to do the right thing can't, because the "no" party refuses to govern. Oil may be a natural occuring resource, but negligence is not. 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of crude flowing from a pipe 6,000 feet down is man caused and not a natural event. You may plead empathy for corporate rule but I prefer to hold those responsible accountable.

I can redirect the blame to the government because we have a new adminstration with the claim to change (especially from a previous Bush adminstration).

The government claims to act on the peoples behalf, when it in fact acts in its own behalf which quite frankly resembles that of your claim for corporate behavior.

Corporations seek the benefits of government (i.e. lobbyist) and government seeks the benefits of corporation ( i.e.corporate welfare).

All in an effort to accrue POWER for its own use and control. In this oversimplified relationship, we the people are mere spectators except for one day in the life of an elected official, election day.

We the people are never at the table when the government is discussing relevant policy which eventuall leads to law. Today, there a host of new citizen grassroot assemblies which petition their representatives in an effort to voice their concerns.

This grassroot swell is a citizenry that will hopefully have a voice that can be heard when elected officials and policymakers sit around the table.

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