Oil spill threatens vulnerable marine sanctuary

by Haley Walker

June 3, 2010

August is roughly two months away. There are approximately sixty days until the first day of that month. Nine weeks.

And that is too far for me to grasp right now or plan for. It seems like forever.

August always signals the start of fall: the start of a new semester at school, the end of picnics and camping. But today is only June 3. Its just starting to get hot.

However, this past Sunday, news broke that exacerbated this feeling, dramatically extending the time between now and then. Officials warned that it could take until the end of summer to cap the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. With this information, August seems like an entire lifetime away.

NOAA currently estimates that 210,000 gallons are spilling into the Gulf everyday, roughly twelve million more gallons will flow from the Deepwater Horizon, before it is stopped. But some say this is a conservative estimate, outside expertsestimateupwards of 1 million gallons are spilling everyday, making it over 60 million gallons by the beginning of August.

The meaning and true impact of this statement is incomprehensible. It would be a severe understatement, perhaps even a belittlement, to say that the consequences of that much oil spilling into the Gulf will have widespread effects.

And while it is apparent that the spill has already taken a toll on ecosystems, fisherman, tourism and more, there are many other aspects along the coast that will be seriously threatened, should the oil continue to spill into the summer.

One of these is theFlower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located approximately 100 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Flower Garden is the only National Marine sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and only one of fourteen federally designated underwater areas protected by NOAA across the world. The place got its name because of its diverse array of brightly colored plants, coral, algae and animals.

Thehomepage of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has named the Flower Garden, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Grays Reef off the coast of Georgia as being threatened by the spill.

The Flower Gardens web site also made a statement last week that NOAA has an emergency response plan in case it the oil spill grows enough to affect the area.

A growing body of research shows the plan may need to be used.

Researchers have recently discovered multiple underwater plumes of oil that stretch for miles that will affect deep-sea life such as Sperm whales and ultimately the life on the floor of the oceans in the Gulfs sanctuary.

The New York Timessaidone plume is 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick.

The University of South Floridareportedanother plume being 22 miles long, 6 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the multitude of research from a variety of qualified scientists, BP CEO Tony Hayward has been quoted assayingthat there is no evidence, that the oil is below the surface.

But the depth of the oil is not the only thing that may threaten these protected areas.

Coral spawning in the Flower Gardens occurs in late summer. The event usually occurs each year for 7 to 10 days after the full moon during the month of August.

It is the same month that officials hope to cap the spill.

Another critical reason for this to be stopped is born.

NOAA was recently quoted in Science Daily stating that the timing of spawning is critical and that the oil spill could severely damage this natural process.

The administrationsaid,Corals that are spawning at the time of an oil spill can be damaged because the eggs and sperm, which are released into the water at very precise times, remain at shallow water depths for various times before they settle. Thus, in addition to compromising water quality, oil pollution can disrupt the long-term viability and reproductive success of corals, rendering them more vulnerable to other types of disturbances.

The possibility of this occurring is about nine weeks away. Approximately 60 days.

Its apparent that there have already been many visible effects of this event. However, not knowing when exactly it will end and slowly finding more and more that have and will be harmed in this event and its aftermath, unfolds everyday.

However, if we continue to participate in offshore drilling in any form, it may be only time before this happens again. Greenpeacebelieves that the only way to prevent an event like this and its consequences is to ban any and all new drilling.

Perhaps setting a deadline to stop the oil from pouring into the Gulf will help get the job done. The consequences of BP and all others involved not meeting it will affect life above and below the sea forever.

But maybe deadlines are just what are needed. No one will get a cash bonus this time for meeting a target date, but its clear that there is much more at stake.

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