“But are you seeing any oil?”
by John Hocevar
October 19, 2010
Many of the people I talk to about the work we’re doing right now, using a submarine to survey deep sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico, understandably want to know where all the oil from the BP Horizon disaster has gone. They want to know how bad the damage is, and whether the Gulf will recover. Some of them wonder if the reports about the “worst environmental disaster in US history” are exaggerated – and others think it might be even worse than what they’ve been hearing from the government, or the media.
So far, the scientists we’ve been working with on this expedition have found dispersant in plankton, at the base of the food chain. They’ve found oil that you could see and smell in sediment samples taken from almost a mile deep. And they’ve found traces of the oil plume in waters over a hundred miles from the BP Horizon site.
But science is slow. Analysis of the research scientists have conducted on the Arctic Sunrise will take months, if not years. It will be a long time before we know how much damage has been done, but there is no question that the impacts on the Gulf ecosystem will be felt for decades. Some species may disappear forever, and the extensive coastal habitat degradation we have seen will cause serious problems for many others.
In the eight sub dives we’ve completed so far, we’ve carried out numerous video transect surveys, gathered live coral specimens, collected water samples, and recorded water quality data with a high tech CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) instrument attached to the sub. We saw a lot of live, healthy looking coral, as well as a lot of dead coral. Was the amount of dead coral “normal”? Who knows? This is part of the problem with studying the health of the oceans – there is very little baseline data available to allow for meaningful comparisons.
All we can say for now is that most places we have looked, we have found oil (although not always in the goopily horrible visible form we saw in the Louisiana wetlands), and impacts on wildlife. Once the data we collected is analyzed, we will know a little bit more about the true cost of our reliance on offshore drilling –and fossil fuels in general. Hopefully, the lessons learned here will help wake up our elected officials in Washington, and they end offshore drilling before the next disaster occurs.
Because what we are seeing on these dives is beautiful, and should not be jeopardized so BP and other Big Oil corporations can squeeze the last drops of oil out of the Gulf. The Gulf ecosystem is still alive, and most of it will recover. The dolphins and the manta ray which visited us in the sub today should not be sacrificed for SUV fuel, and neither should the spectacular deep sea reefs which help sustain life at the bottom of the Gulf.
For the Oceans –