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New study shows lingering impacts from Gulf oil spill

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist rescues an oil-soaked pelican in Batavia Bay, Louisiana. PHOTO BY JOHN D. MILLER/U.S. COAST GUARD.

New LSU research suggests that oil gushing from BP’s failed Macondo Well damaged gills and has potentially long-term impacts to reproduction

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Louisiana State University biologists said this week that oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has damaged the gills of marsh-dwelling fish along the Gulf Coast The research also suggests that exposure to the oil could impair fish reproduction, meaning that the probability of impact on populations is significant.

The study by Fernando Galvez and Andrew Whitehead was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and  is being published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The gill tissues, important for maintaining critical body functions, appeared damaged and had altered protein expression coincident with oil exposure. The effects persisted for long after the visible oil disappeared from the marsh surface. Controlled exposures in laboratory settings of developing embryos to field-collected waters induced similar cellular responses.

“This is of concern because early life-stages of many organisms are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of oil and because marsh contamination occurred during the spawning season of many important species,” Whitehead said. “Though the fish may be ‘safe to eat’ based on low chemical burdens in their tissues, that doesn’t mean that the fish are healthy or that the fish are capable of reproducing normally,” he added.

A major take-home message of the more than two decades of research following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was that sub-lethal biological effects, especially those associated with reproduction, were most predictive of the long-term population-level impacts still apparent in many species such as herring and salmon.

The current LSU study shows that early signals of similar kinds of sub-lethal effects are starting to emerge in  ecologically important species following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

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Summit Voice: Weekend headlines

Republican budget cuts threaten voluntary habitat conservation programs.

Environment: House Republicans slash $1 billion from USDA’s voluntary conservation and wildlife habitat programs

The U.S. House of Representatives this week cut almost  $1 billion from U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs for Fiscal Year 2012, spurring criticism from environmental groups.

“We realize that Congress faces tough budget choices, but making draconian cuts to voluntary conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers provide all Americans with cleaner air and water, more productive soils and habitat for wildlife is penny-wise and dollar-foolish,” said Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The Senate needs to restore reasonable funding levels for conservation programs for the benefit of our environment and taxpayers.”

John Hiatt in Breckenridge.

Photoblog: Lovett and Hiatt in Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE — Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt wowed the crowd at the Riverwalk Center Thursday night. Their personalities, humor, style, great singing voices and beautiful guitar work made the show a rare pleasure. Anyone in the audience not already a fan walked away as one by the end of the evening.

The stage presence and synergy between the two is mesmerizing. They clearly love what they do, and the audience loved watching them do it.

Nesting pelicans.

Pelicans rescued from gulf oil spill nesting in Georgia

SUMMIT COUNTY — In the months during and after the BP oil spill that began April 2010, more than 7,000 birds were collected dead, or died soon after, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An unknown number of additional birds were most likely exposed to oil and never recovered, either because they died at sea or in remote locations on the coast.

More than 1,200 birds were rehabilitated and released in Georgia, Florida, Texas and upstate Louisiana. Of those, 699 were brown pelicans, 140 of which were released in Georgia last June and July. Some of those pelicans not only returned this spring, they are nesting and raising young.

Learn more about the inventor of the ice machine.

Travel: Shrimp, oysters, cotton and … the ice machine

APALACHICOLA, FLA. — After passing through the heavily developed strip resorts around Destin, it was a relief to pull into the pet-friendly Rancho Inn, in Apalachicola, a historic fishing and  harbor village in the heart of what locals call the forgotten coast. We decide to linger an extra day, if only to learn the correct pronunciation of the six-syllable town.

Pelicans rescued from gulf oil spill nesting in Georgia

Georgia pelican

Signs of hope for the beleaguered birds, but future still uncertain

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In the months during and after the BP oil spill that began April 2010, more than 7,000 birds were collected dead, or died soon after, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An unknown number of additional birds were most likely exposed to oil and never recovered, either because they died at sea or in remote locations on the coast.

More than 1,200 birds were rehabilitated and released in Georgia, Florida, Texas and upstate Louisiana. Of those, 699 were brown pelicans, 140 of which were released in Georgia last June and July. Some of those pelicans not only returned to the state this spring, they are nesting and raising young here.

Continue reading

Oil Spill: New study outlines global species impacts


Report: Oil spill assessments and studies should account for globally threatened species

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As many as 53 species listed as threatened by the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature may have taken a big hit from last year’s Gulf of Mexico Deepwater oil well disaster.

The species on the IUCN Red List include whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, Atlantic bluefin tuna , 16 species of sharks, and eight corals. Many species are particularly vulnerable because they return to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn, and the oil spill coincided with peak spawning periods.

Whale sharks are uniquely at risk from oil and oil dispersants because their filter-feeding behavior; long lifespan and slow reproductive rate compound the threat to its recovery, according to University of New Hampshire professor Fred Short, co-author of a new paper in the journal BioScience. The paper placed the oil disaster in the context of global restoration efforts. Continue reading

BP makes $1 billion ‘downpayment’ for Gulf restoration

Volunteers replanting a salt marsh in Louisiana. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Gulf states to split the money for high priority projects

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A $1 billion payment by BP will go toward rebuilding of coastal marshes, replenishing damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive areas for ocean habitat for injured wildlife, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural protection from storms, the federal government said, announcing what’s being called a voluntary “downpayment” toward BP’s obligation to fund the complete restoration of injured public resources, including the loss of use of those resources by the people living, working and visiting the area.

The money will be split among Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This milestone agreement will allow us to jump-start restoration projects that will bring Gulf Coast marshes, wetlands, and wildlife habitat back to health after the damage they suffered as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This agreement accelerates our work on Gulf Coast restoration and in no way limits the ability of all the Natural Resource Trustees from seeking full damages from those who are responsible as the natural resource damage assessment process moves forward.” Continue reading

Oil spill: One year later

Activists mark anniversary with protests, Gulf residents work toward recovery

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Dozens of environmental, climate, and social justice groups  targetec government and corporate operations with  protests and civil disobedience in an international day of direct action against extraction organized by Rising Tide North America to commemorate the first anniversary of BP’s Gulf oil disaster. The protests were organized to demand an end to the environmental destruction and climate destabilization created by fossil fuel and other extraction industries.

Continue reading

Watchdog groups team up for aerial Gulf surveillance

Inaccurate, confusing and misleading government information shows need for independent environmental monitoring

Aerial surveillance by SouthWings discovered this oil spill last summer. Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures courtesy SouthWings. Click to read the story about this leak on the SkyTruth blog.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conflicting and often inaccurate information about last year’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico led to confusion and even affected the government response to the disaster, showing the need for better monitoring, said SkyTruth president John Amos, announcing the formation of a new partnership with the Waterkeeper Alliance and SouthWings that will systematically monitor the Gulf using satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, and on-the-water observation and sampling.

Perhaps the best example of the need for independent monitoring came early during the disaster, when BP and the government drastically underestimated the rate of the leak, with consequences not only for the environment, but for the amount of the fines that BP will pay.

“The difference in the amount of the fines could be as much as $16 billion,” Amos said, referring to the company’s low-ball figures and the true amount of oil that gushed from BP’s failed well. “That could go a long way toward restoration. Damaging rumors and speculation take hold in the absence of good information, leading people in Gulf communities still reeling from the BP disaster to fear the worst: another major offshore spill,”  Amos said. Continue reading

EPA faces lawsuit over dispersant use in Gulf oil spill

Coast Guard vessels try to extinguish the burning Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

Environmental group wants feds to study and disclose impacts of dispersants, as marine biologists continue to document an unusually high number of dead whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One year after the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA is facing a potential lawsuit over the widespread use of chemical oil dispersants.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of the dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species or their habitats.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the EPA must pre-approve the use of chemical dispersants in the event of an oil spill, but has not taken steps to ensure that the use of these chemicals will not jeopardize endangered wildlife. The Center’s notice requests that the agency immediately study the effects of dispersants on endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles, endangered whales, piping plovers and corals.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a wake-up call about the inadequacy of current oil-spill response technology,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Before the next spill happens, the government needs to ensure that these dispersants don’t do more harm than good to threatened and endangered species.” Continue reading

Oil spill: Back to business as usual in the Gulf?

Feds won’t require new environmental studies for previously permitted deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico

A NOAA map shows the location of almost 4,000 oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — It could be back to business as usual for some oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement this week gave 13 companies a conditional go-ahead for more drilling. The companies, including Chevron and Shell, won’t have to revise their plans for previously approved operations if their worst-case spill estimates are less than the worst-case spill estimates in their oil spill response plans.

The companies will have to comply with new safety and environmental regulations developed after BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Continue reading

Oil working its way up the Gulf of Mexico food chain

Scientists working in the Gulf of Mexico are tracking BP's spilled oil as it works its way up the food web, from bacteria to plankton. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Measuring relative levels of carbon isotopes helps researchers determine how the oil may move through the marine ecoystem

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a couple of days after biologists discovered a patch of oil-damaged coral a few miles from BP’s failed Macondo well, another round of research shows that non-toxic carbon from the oil is quickly working its way up the food chain, from bacteria to plankton, which forms the basis of the marine ecosystem as an important food source for larger animals.

“Recently, much has been made of where the oil went. Because of the magnitude of the spill, the fact that the oil seemed to have ‘disappeared’ so quickly made many people uncomfortable with the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants to move the oil from its floating form on top of the water to micro-droplets within the water,” said lead author Dr. Monty Graham.

“We showed with little doubt that oil consumed by marine bacteria did reach the larger zooplankton that form the base of the food chain. These zooplankton are an incredibly important food-source for many species of fish, jellyfish and whales,” Graham said.Graham and his co-researchers measured the impact of the oil by tracing carbon isotopes, according to a press release from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Continue reading


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