Oil Spill Shows how Fragile Ecosystems Can be

This past weekend around 160,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into Galveston Bay following a collision between two ships.

High waves driven by wind made containing the spill impossible and oil reached some areas on shore and also lead to the closure of the Houston Ship Channel during the early phases of the cleanup effort.

Besides the container ships and tankers that were left waiting for the Ship Channel to reopen passengers aboard two cruise ships were delayed and the ferry linking Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula was closed as a result of the spill.

While 160,000 gallons of oil sounds like a lot of oil it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to some of the worst oil spills in history.

Pelicans like this one are especially susceptible to oil spills. Photo R. Anderson

Pelicans like this one are especially susceptible to oil spills.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, even a drop in the bucket can have long reaching implications. And when that drop of oil in the bucket occurs during prime bird migration season the sticky situation can be even worse.

Oil covered birds have already been discovered and there will likely be more found before the clean up is complete but there is more to the impacts of the spill then some oil covered birds and fish.

Impacts of crude oil will likely be felt all the way to the bottom of the food chain with the total impacts not known for years.

Few would argue that oil is an important part of life and is needed for everything from transportation to power generation and it is not realistic to say that society needs to be completely oil free.

Effects of oil spills are often felt all the way to the bottom of marine ecosystems which means finding the total impact can often take decades. Photo R. Anderson

Effects of oil spills are often felt all the way to the bottom of marine ecosystems which means finding the total impact can often take decades.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power that can help reduce the amount of petroleum products society needs the simple fact is the industrialized world cannot function without fossil fuels.

As such every possible precaution is taken to ensure the safe manufacturing and transporting of oil from the time it leaves the ground until the final product is placed in the consumer’s hand.

Despite all of these precautions there are occasionally spills and other accidents such as the one that occurred over the weekend.

When things do go wrong in the oil manufacturing process and entire ecosystems are put at risk it becomes time to look at all sides of the argument and ensure that impacts are minimized and the oil is removed in the safest way possible.

Birds that land in oil require quick attention to prevent lasting effects and death. Photo R. Anderson

Birds that land in oil require quick attention to prevent lasting effects and death.
Photo R. Anderson

We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon incident where the Gulf of Mexico was inundated over 87 days with an estimated total discharge at 4.9 million barrels  of oil, which is roughly 210 million gallons.

The 2010 spill, which is also referred to as the BP Oil Spill, was the largest oil spill to occur in the waters off of the United States.

Even now many groups are monitoring the Gulf of Mexico for signs of damage to the ecosystem. While trends such as a rise in dolphin fatality rates have been observed the total impacts related to the spill will not be known for decades.

It should be noted that there are ships and other modes or transport that travel safely through the waters and roads on a daily basis so oil spills are certainly the exception more than the rule but it is an exception with dire consequences.

Oil runs the boats in the marina and under most circumstances can coexist with marine life unless it it spilled directly into the environment such as was the case recently in Galveston Bay. Photo R. Anderson

Oil runs the boats in the marina and under most circumstances can coexist with marine life unless it it spilled directly into the environment such as was the case recently in Galveston Bay.
Photo R. Anderson

Generations of people have counted on the Gulf of Mexico for food and relaxation. And with the right steps now it should be available for generations to come.

The same is true of Galveston Bay which has large recreational and professional fishing communities that count on the wildlife within its waters to be free of contaminants and safe to eat.

There is certainly more to life than a stroll on the beach or a quiet day out on the fishing pier. But everybody deserves the option to stroll on that beach and fish from that pier oil free when the time to does come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about marine ecosystems has me craving some scallops with Old Bay Seasoning.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *