Over 200 million gallons of oil leaked from the Macondo well in the Mexican Gulf in 2010. The oil surged from about 5,000 feet under the ground forming underwater clouds of oil and slicks on both the surface and ocean floor. The range of oil contamination in the Gulf of Mexico implied that there was a possibility of the spillage causing adverse effects on the ecosystem and marine life in the area (Jernelov 353-357).
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Actually, numerous skeletons of vertebrates and invertebrates have been found in the region. Their death is associated with the oil spillage since the region had not recorded such a vast number of deaths before the spillage. Claims that the number of deaths of the marine animals and plants in the region is underrepresented have emerged, implying that it is higher than what is actually known today. One of the living things that were highly affected by the oil spillage is the dolphins (Jernelov 360).
The spillage affected the population dynamics of the dolphins in the region. It affected the breeding rate of the dolphins thus leading to reduction in the number of these wonderful animals in the region. Besides, most of the dolphins died due to diseases and lack of food because of the oil spillage.
The spillage interrupted the natural growth of marine plants in the region as well as development of other fish species. These fish species and plants act as the major sources of food for the dolphins (Jernelov 361). Oil spillage affected the dolphins both directly and indirectly.
The direct effects included ingestion of contaminated food, which resulted in death and serious illnesses. The indirect cases involved measures taken by the government and oil companies to curb oil spillage in the area. Some of the response activities affected the life of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. Apart from affecting the dolphins and other marine lives, the oil spillage adversely affected the fishing activity in the region.
The Gulf of Mexico is popular for supplying seafood to many parts of the world. Nevertheless, the spillage led to contamination of the seafood in the region calling for closure of fishing activities in the region (Jernelov 366). This paper will focus on the effects of oil spillage on dolphins and fishing activities in the Gulf of Mexico.
Effects of oil spillage on dolphins
Reduction in aquatic plants and preys
Dolphins depend on aquatic plants and other fish species for food. According to a study conducted along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it was found that the spillage led to the reduction of the food available for dolphins in the region. It affected the food chain for the dolphins making them weak.
Besides, the spillage led to reduction in the number of preys available for dolphins thus affecting their breeding process (Williams et al. 228). The incidence occurred at a period when the breeding process for the dolphins was at the prime stage. The number of young dolphins found dead along the coastline evidenced this assertion.
Oil spilled on the surface of the ocean formed a cloud cover that made it hard for air and sunlight to penetrate to the bottom of the sea. Consequently, it was hard for marine plants to grow in the region. Besides, most of the fish species lacked oxygen as well as food leading to their death. It left the dolphins with limited food supply thus affecting their reproduction process (Williams et al. 230).
A study conducted by the East Carolina University students proved that the oil spillage affected the growth of zooplankton in the region. Most of the marine mammals depend on zooplanktons for food. Dolphins also depend on the zooplanktons for their survival.
Hence, interruption of the natural growth of zooplanktons meant an interruption in the survival of dolphins along the Gulf of Mexico (Williams et al. 231). A study on the zooplanktons in the area found that most of them had oil contamination. Even now, the zooplanktons continue being contaminated hence affecting the food web in the region, which is vital for dolphins.
The incidence that led to death of numerous dolphins during the 2011 cold season revolved on the previous oil spillage. By the time the cold season set on, the dolphins in the region were already weak because of limited food supply and bacterial infections caused by oil spillage in the area. It was hard for the dolphins to swim away to overcome the hurricane. Moreover, most of them could not withstand the cold and this element eventually led to most of them being washed away to the shore along the coastline (Williams et al. 231-233).
Until now, scientists posit that the spillage still poses a threat to the growth of fauna and flora in the gulf region. Most of the areas where dolphins used to breed in are lifeless implying that the number of dolphin births in the region is expected to decline for a long time. Absence of aquatic plants vital for the survival of dolphins implies that it will be hard for the dolphins to breed in the region.
High number of deaths of baby dolphins
Another clear effect of oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico on the dolphins is the number of deaths of baby dolphins reported in the area (Campagna et al. 393). This does not imply that the region does not witness cases of deaths of baby dolphins. Nevertheless, the number of deaths reported after the spillage incident is alarming, implying that the incident is the leading cause of these deaths. According to the director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies, the institute had never recorded such a vast number of deaths in the region.
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The oil spillage led to numerous dolphins experiencing abortion while others got stillborns (Campagna et al. 394). The mother dolphins suffered trauma as they tried to push their young ones to the seashore in order to breathe. Previously, the region was reporting about one or two cases of stillborn dolphins. Nevertheless, the number of stillborns recorded after the spillage proved that the repercussion of the oil spillage on marine life in the area were devastating.
Traditionally, the dolphin stranding was high between February and March. This marks the breeding period for the dolphins. By evaluating the number of stillborns and infant dolphins that died before and after the spillage, it is evident that the spillage incident intensified the rate of stillborns and infant deaths in the region (Campagna et al. 395). Before the incident, the average number of deaths was at fourteen dolphins per year.
In 2010, the number increased to twenty-nine dolphins, but in 2011, the number increased to eighty-six. This comprised of stillborns, premature, or stranded infants. As most of the aquatic life is tainted with oil, it means that most of the foods eaten by adult dolphins in the region are contaminated.
The toxic food eaten by dolphins leads to the increase in the number of stillbirths in the region. Dolphins depend on a certain food chain for survival. The bigger fish feed on the smaller fish. On the other hand, the smaller fish feed on plankton. When the planktons are contaminated, the toxin finds its way up to the dolphins thus leading to cases of stillbirths and infant stranding. Dolphins have the capacity to detect oil.
Nevertheless, if they cannot evade the oil, it is hard for them to escape the affects of oil contamination. The spillage affected the gestation cycle of the dolphins leading to some aborting while others gave birth to stillborns. The spillage came at a time when most of the dolphins were still young. Hence, it was hard for the young dolphins to swim away from the contaminated region. Moreover, the young dolphins were unable to overcome the toxicities and thus succumbed.
Dolphins suffered serious illnesses
The spillage did not only affect the young dolphins but also had adverse effects on the older dolphins. It resulted in water contamination, reduction in the amount of light, and oxygen supply in the area. As dolphins continued inhaling contaminated air and feeding on contaminated foods, they started developing serious illnesses.
A study conducted on Bottlenose dolphins along the Barataria Bay proved that the dolphins were suffering from anemia, that is, most of them had lost weight while others exhibited symptoms of lung and liver diseases and low blood sugar (Campagna et al. 395-397).
The dolphins were into contact with the oily water for a long period. Reduction in oxygen levels in the water and water contamination led to the dolphins suffering from lung and liver diseases. In addition, the dolphins suffered from stress. The study showed that most of the dolphins had limited number of hormones responsible for suppressing stress (Campagna et al. 396). Additionally, they had weak immune systems and suffered from metabolic disorders.
In spite of these findings being preliminary, the researchers could come up with concrete conclusion that oil spillage was the main cause of the illnesses since dolphins living in areas that were not affected by the spillage did not exhibit any of such illnesses (Campagna et al. 396). According to scientists, other mammals exposed to oil portray similar symptoms implying that there is a high probability that these symptoms were due to the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico (Campagna et al. 397).
Death of the dolphins
Apart from the serious illnesses reported on the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, numerous stranding cases have been reported in the region since the oil spillage incident. Besides the number of young dolphins and the stillborns found dead along the coastline, numerous adult dolphins have been found stranded in the gulf (Fodrie and Heck 19). In 2011, the region reported about one hundred stranding cases of dolphins. Prior to the oil spillage, the region used to report about seventy-four cases per year.
Over the past two years only, the number of deaths among the dolphins has increased eightfold. Since the oil spillage incidence, the Gulf of Mexico has recorded over six hundred cases of dead dolphins along the Louisiana coastline. After a study was carried out to identify the cause of deaths, it was clear that most of the dolphins were suffering from liver and lung diseases, which resulted from exposure to oil (Fodrie and Heck 20).
It is yet not exceptionally clear if oil spillage is the main cause of the increased number of dying dolphins in the region. The number started going up in March 2010. At this time, the oil spillage accident had not occurred. Hence, the increase in the number of deaths right before the incidence implies that other factors might also be contributing to the stranding cases in the region (Fodrie and Heck 22-25).
Nevertheless, this does not rule out the contribution of oil spillage to the increase in the number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. The biggest number of deaths appears to occur in areas that were highly affected by the spillage. As the oil continued spreading into estuaries and bays, it posed a threat to bottlenose dolphins in the region. The untamed dolphins are not capable of detecting and evading oil.
Hence, the dolphins continued swimming into the areas contaminated with oil coming into direct contact with it and inhaling toxic fumes. The dolphins appeared disoriented, suffered from brain injuries, and ultimately most of them died (Fodrie and Heck 26). Bottlenose dolphins live in environments that expose them to risks. Most of them live in shallow waters along the coastline. They are adapted to these areas such that it is hard for them to relocate even after realizing that the area is no longer habitable.
Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducted a necropsy on some of the stranded dolphins. The necropsy showed that some of the dolphins were suffering from brucellosis, a disease caused by environmental pollution (Fodrie and Heck 27-32). Brucellosis is not associated with a large number of dolphin deaths like morbillivirus.
Hence, the necropsy revealed that an environmental stressor was behind the numerous deaths. Some of the researchers posited that the dolphins got into direct contact with oil, and they were exposed to dispersants used to curb oil spread for a long time weakening their immune system. Eventually, they ended up suffering from bacterial infection.
Alternatively, oil spillage had an indirect effect on the dolphins. It led to reduction in the number of preys in the area leaving the dolphins with limited food supply (Fodrie and Heck 34). This element in return, exhausted the energy required by female dolphins making it hard for them to feed their babies.
Effects of the response activities
In response to the oil spillage incident, the American government and other stakeholders used varied response methods. For instance, to curb oil spread, the Regional Response Team allowed the use of Corexit as the dispersant (Levy and Gopalakrishnan 279). The Corexit is harmful to dolphins when ingested.
The chemical caused breathing complication to the dolphins. Apart from Corexit use, other measures taken to control oil spillage included the use of in-situ burning, skimmers, and booms. These measures had direct effects on marine life. As the activity took several days, it interrupted the normal way of life for the dolphins leading to their displacement (Levy and Gopalakrishnan 280-283).
Many dolphins had to relocate from their initial habitat as numerous vessels moved to the area to control oil spillage. The burning cut down on the amount of oil in the water. Nevertheless, it had other side effects that were detrimental to the dolphins. In spite of reducing the amount of oil in water, the burning process led to emission of toxic chemicals in the air.
The dolphins inhaled the toxic chemicals thus suffering from varied breathing problems (Levy and Gopalakrishnan 283-287). Besides, it led to the formation of lasting toxic compounds that float on the surface of the ocean. These compounds contributed to the demise of the aquatic life, which acts as the major source of food for the dolphins.
Besides the use of dispersants and in-situ burning to control oil spillage, there was conduction of seismic surveys to determine the possibility of other oil leakages. The machines used to carryout the seismic surveys were extremely noisy (Levy and Gopalakrishnan 291-298).
The noise from the machines caused disturbance to the dolphins eventually leading to displacement of most of them. Dolphins enjoy living in a serene environment. Apart from the ships and other transport vessels that visit the Gulf of Mexico, the dolphins had never encountered a lot of noise in the region.
Hence, the noise from the machines used in conducting seismic survey led to their disturbance thus leading to their displacement. In addition to disturbance, the machines used in controlling oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico led to numerous mammals suffering from hearing problems. Some dolphins suffered from hearing problems (Levy and Gopalakrishnan 301-315).
Effects of oil spillage on fishing
The effects of oil spillage in the fishing industry are still prevalent almost two years after the incidence. Prior to the spillage, anglers were recoding high catches along the Gulf of Mexico especially during May. However, since the oil spillage accident, things changed altogether.
Currently, fishing activities along the gulf are not as vibrant as they used to be and most of the people fear that this trend might take longer than expected (Gohlke et al.1062). In 2010, the number of fish caught in the Barataria estuary hit the lowest mark ever. Barataria estuary is one of the estuaries that were highly affected by the oil spillage.
A lot of oil accumulated in this estuary affecting the marine life. The low catch in the area is leading to the skyrocketing of the price of fish along the Gulf of Mexico (Gohlke et al.1065). Hence, most of the anglers hardly experience the costs of oil spillage since their income is still high despite the reduction in the number of fish they catch.
Accumulation of oil in the estuaries affected the life of most of the aquatic life. It was hard for zooplanktons to grow in these estuaries. Consequently, most of the fish in the estuaries died due to lack of food. Moreover, some fish died after feeding on toxic zooplanktons (Able and Fahay 69).
The death led to reduction in the number of fish in the estuaries thus affecting the volume of fish caught in the area. As the amount of food in the estuaries continued waning off, it became hard for fish to continue breeding. Fish normally thrive and multiply quickly in areas that have abundant zooplanktons.
Their fingerlings require adequate food for survival and growth. Nevertheless, oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico made it hard for zooplanktons to thrive in most of the affected estuaries. Eventually, most of the fingerlings died out of starvation. Besides the starvation, it was hard for the fingerlings to swim to areas with adequate food. Hence, most of them remained in the contaminated estuaries.
As oil accumulated on the surface of the ocean, it resulted in the reduction of oxygen level in water (Able and Fahay 71). Hence, the fingerlings did not get adequate oxygen supply. Additionally, they inhaled contaminated air leading to their death. This affected the number of fish in the estuaries. The anglers continued with their fishing activities thus reducing the number of fish in the estuaries.
Oil spillage led to closure of most of the fishing fields along the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers were asked to evacuate the area as the government and oil companies embarked on cleaning the contaminated area. The spilled oil spread in the ocean contaminating water as well as the zooplanktons. In return, when fish fed on the zooplankton, they became contaminated making them poisonous for human consumption. It was hard for the anglers to determine the range of contamination in the region (Able and Fahay 76).
Hence, they could not tell the areas where they could catch healthy fish. The government made the decision to ban fishing activities along the Gulf of Mexico until they were through with cleaning the area to ensure that people did not eat contaminated fish.
The spillage rendered most of the anglers idle. Oysters, finned fish, and crabs were the leading types of fish caught in the area. These sea creatures thrived in most of the areas contaminated with oil. Closure of fishing activities in the area meant that it was hard for people to continue harvesting these types of fish (Gohlke et al. 1066-1069).
Anglers had to come up with alternative measures to continue supporting their families. Oil spillage along the Gulf of Mexico led to diversification of the fishing activity in the area. Some of the fishermen opted to carryout their fishing activities deeper into the ocean. Hence, rather than concentrating on oysters, finned fish, and crabs, anglers started harvesting red snapper and tuna.
These types of fish live in deep sea where oil spillage was hard to reach. Besides the diversification of the fishing activities in the Gulf of Mexico, oil spillage adversely affected the fishing activities in the area in that most of the fishing boats were hired to facilitate in cleaning up the area (McCrea-Strub et al. 332).
Most of the people that once worked as anglers assumed the roles of cleaning the environment leaving a limited number of fishing boats and anglers to continue with the fishing activity. Some of the seafood processors in the region complained that the greatest problem was in getting anglers to harvest fish in areas that were still open to fishing (McCrea-Strub et al. 333).
For instance, some seafood companies claimed that in spite of the state allowing for the harvest of oysters in Houma, it was almost impossible since the oil companies had absorbed most of the anglers to help in cleaning the coastline. Moreover, they were using most of the fishing boats in the cleaning process.
The oil spillage had negative effects on local fishing interests. Kathryn Birren, the owner of Hernando Beach Seafood and several fishing boats, asserted that the spillage intensified the miseries that the local fishing industry was going through at the time. Immediately after the incident, stakeholders in the local fishing industry started realizing that the industry was doomed (McCrea-Strub et al. 334).
Even though the volume of the fish supplied in the industry did not go down immediately, returns from fish business started going down. Consumers started doubting the catch with some declining to purchase their fish from local suppliers. It was hard for people in Hernando County to ascertain the level of contamination in the area.
Besides, anglers could not identify the contaminated fish (McCrea-Strub et al. 336). Hence, most of the consumers feared that the oil contaminated all fish caught in the region thus failing to purchase them. In places like Houma, fishing firms are finding it difficult to convince consumers to buy their tuna and red snappers despite the fact that these types of fish are being caught far inside the ocean.
Anglers went for days without making any sales despite coming out with massive catches (McCrea-Strub et al. 336). Failure to make substantial sales contributed to most of the anglers abandoning their job, while boat owners freely agreed to lend their boats to help in cleaning the coastline.
The spillage incident profoundly affected the inshore fishing. Most of the inshore fishing grounds were closed due to contamination. Nevertheless, the offshore fishing grounds did not feel the effects of oil spillage. Most of the federal fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico remained open and fishing activities went on as usual (McCrea-Strub et al. 333). The offshore fishing helped in ensuring that the region did not suffer from a shortage in fish supply.
However, as the problem of controlling oil spillage in the area intensified, it became hard for anglers operating in offshore fishing grounds to continue making significant sales in the region. Consumers started doubting the quality of fish supplied with some claiming that they might also be tainted. This eventually affected the offshore fishing despite the government allowing fishing activities to go on in these areas.
Apart from commercial fishing, recreational fishing also takes place along the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous tourists visit the area for fishing games annually.
The recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico was not either spared by the oil spillage incident. Most of the tourists avoided visiting the gulf immediately they learnt about the contamination. Besides, contamination led to death of most of the fish in the region leaving the tourists with a limited number of fish to catch. Recreational fishing became no longer entertaining thus discouraging most of the tourists.
In addition, dispersants used to control oil spread were toxic making it hard for tourists to continue plying the area (McCrea-Strub et al. 335). To ensure that the contamination did not spread to other areas, the government restricted the use of fishing boats and any fishing activity on the affected area. Hence, tourists could not carryout their fishing sports in the region thus affecting the recreational fishing in the region.
The oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico had negative impacts on both the dolphins and fishing activities in the region. The spillage led to water contamination in the region thus affecting the aquatic life and reducing the number of preys in the region. In return, dolphins lacked food making it hard for them to multiply.
In addition, the oil spillage led to increase in the number of stillbirths and death of infant dolphins. The oil spillage also led to dolphins suffering from serious diseases. Most of the dolphins from the affected areas were underweight and suffered from anemia coupled with stress.
Apart from the diseases, there were numerous cases of dolphins stranding along the Gulf of Mexico. Oil contamination led to dolphins suffering from bacterial infection, which caused brucellosis. Some of the response activities undertaken to control oil spillage in the area had adverse effects on the dolphins. For instance, the noise produced by machines used to carryout seismic surveys disturbed the dolphins leading to their relocation.
The oil spillage affected fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The contamination spread to the estuaries leading to a reduction in the number of fish. With time, the volume of fish caught in the area started decreasing. Most of the fishing grounds were closed down leaving the majority of anglers jobless. Some of the anglers had to look for alternative ways of earning their living.
Eventually, some anglers embarked on offshore fishing since the government did not authorize its closure. Besides, most of the anglers abandoned the fishing business and got absorbed by the oil companies that were helping in cleaning the area. It became hard for seafood companies to acquire fishing boats since the oil companies hired most of them to facilitate in cleaning the gulf.
Most of the consumers declined to purchase fish in the region claiming that they were contaminated with oil. Hence, fishing firms went for a long time without making substantial sales out of their catch. Finally, the Gulf of Mexico is popular for fishing sports, but the oil spillage led to closure of fishing sports in the area to give room for oil companies and the government to clean the area.
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