No one can predict how catastrophic the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is becoming and just how devastating this disaster might prove to be.
Yet, one thing is clear the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico is at great risk. Adding to the tragedy is that this is an incredibly vital area-and an incredibly vital time of year-for countless numbers of species that come for refuge to this specific stretch of the country to breed, nest, spawn, feed, and rest during migration. Peak migration and breeding times are late-April through mid-May. It really could not be worse timing.
1. Nesting and Migrating Shore Birds
Shorebirds such as plovers, sandpipers and oystercatchers are nesting or preparing to nest on beaches and barrier islands in Louisiana. Those that build their nests on the ground and feed on invertebrates are vulnerable to oil coming ashore.
2. Migrating Songbirds
We may not associate songbirds with the gulf shore, but migratory songbirds-warblers, orioles, buntings, flycatchers, swallows, hummingbirds and others-fly across the Gulf from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and rest and feed in the spill area. The non-stop journey across 500 miles of open water tests their endurance to its limits, and they rely on clear skies and healthy habitats on both sides of the Gulf in order to survive their journey.
3. Brown Pelicans
The brown pelican has not had an easy time of it. The gracefully gangling birds were only removed from the endangered species list last year, and there is a major population, around 34, 000 of them, currently nesting in the Gulf at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge-they are facing serious threat.
4. Sea Turtles
Of the seven remaining species of sea turtles known today, five of those species are in the Gulf. The oil spill area is one of the only foraging grounds for the most endangered species of the bunch, the Kemp’s ridley turtle, which is in its peak nesting season. One of its two primary migration routes runs south of Mississippi. Loggerhead turtles, also endangered, feed in the warm waters in the Gulf between May and October.
5. Whales and Dolphins
A total of 21 whale and dolphin species that routinely inhabit the northern Gulf are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and two whale species may be in the area of the spill: Bryde’s whales and endangered sperm whales, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The greatest threat is if whales get oil in the filtering structure in their mouths, which could lead to starvation and death, notes the The New York Times.
Manatees are beginning to spread out along their full range of summer habitat in the Gulf, making them vulnerable to contaminated waters. According to the EPA publication, Wildlife And Oil Spills, manatees may be affected by inhaling volatile hydrocarbons while they are breathing on the surface, and it is very likely that exposure to petroleum would irritate sensitive mucous membranes and eyes. As with most animals, the young are the most at risk.
7. Fish, Shellfish and Crabs
According to The New York Times, the delta estuary is also the breeding ground for a lot of fish, shellfish and crabs, says LuAnn White, director of Tulane University’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. “All of those are at risk for being damaged,” she said. “That estuary area is responsible for the breeding for about 40 percent of the aquatic life that’s in the Gulf, [so] you could be affected not only the wildlife that lives in that area, but the whole Gulf.”
8. Gulf Sturgeon
Gulf sturgeon are gathering in coastal areas preparing to migrate upstream to spawn-oil reaching their congregation areas could be disastrous for the fish. At the turn of the 1900s, sturgeons in North American waters were heavily fished for their flesh and caviar. The gulf sturgeon was fished off Florida from 1887-1985 with a peak harvest at the turn of the 20th century
9. North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Unfortunately for the North Atlantic bluefin tuna, their meat is regarded as exceedingly delicious and overfishing throughout their range has driven their numbers to extremely low levels. Critically endangered (according to the IUCN Red List), their stocks have already fallen about 90 percent since the 1970s.
Yes, we are like animals, and our existence is fragile and very dependable on well-being of the flora and the fauna.
Filed Under: Animal & Plant Life