Scientists Warn of Unseen Deepwater Oil Disaster
Independent scientists and government officials say there’s a disaster we can’t see in the Gulf of Mexico’s mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.
[ … ]
“Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.
[ … ]
Every night, the denizens of the deep make forays to shallower depths to eat — and be eaten by — other fish, according to marine scientists who describe it as the largest migration on earth.
In turn, several species closest to the surface — including red snapper, shrimp and menhaden — help drive the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Others such as marlin, cobia and yellowfin tuna sit atop the food chain and are chased by the Gulf’s charter fishing fleet.
Many of those species are now in their annual spawning seasons. Eggs exposed to oil would quickly perish. Those that survived to hatch could starve if the plankton at the base of the food chain suffer. Larger fish are more resilient, but not immune to the toxic effects of oil.
The Gulf’s largest spill was in 1979, when the Ixtoc I platform off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula blew up and released 140 million gallons of oil. But that was in relatively shallow waters — about 160 feet deep — and much of the oil stayed on the surface where it broke down and became less toxic by the time it reached the Texas coast.
But last week, a team from the University of South Florida reported a plume was headed toward the continental shelf off the Alabama coastline, waters thick with fish and other marine life.
[ … ]