The National Wildlife Federation says in a new report the Gulf is still struggling almost five years after the massive BP oil spill. The new study looks at 20 species in the Gulf, including oysters, sea turtles and blue crabs. Ryan Fikes is a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation.
"The Gulf of Mexico is an incredibly diverse ecosystem," he says. "Our report highlights impacts to the deep ocean, coastal marshes and beaches. And while these are not the only habitats affected by the oil spill, they provide a good example of its scale and diversity."
Much of the research on the spill’s impact is still under wraps since it’s part of the legal case against BP and others involved in the spill. But Fikes says what is available shows there are signs the spill continues to impact wildlife, such as red snapper, pelicans and bottlenose dolphins.
"Bottlenose dolphins in the places most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are very sick, their pregnancies are failing and they're dying in large numbers," he says. "These dolphins have been intensively studied, and the science points very strongly at the after-effects of the Deepwater Horizon [spill]."
National Wildlife Federation president Collin O’Mara argues that money from spill fines and penalties should be used to restore the ecological damage caused by the spill.
"And the reason is fairly simple: restoring the ecology of the Gulf will restore the economy," he says. "We can't have a healthy vibrant Gulf economy unless we restore these incredible resources."
BP argued in a report earlier this month that only a limited number of Gulf species were affected by the spill and overall populations are back to normal trend lines.
This debate over the true environmental impact has serious financial repercussions, since it affects how much BP will pay under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment.
UPDATE: In a statement in response to the National Wildlife Federation report, Geoff Morrell, BP's senior vice president for U.S. communications and external affairs, called the report "a work of political advocacy by an organization that has referred to the Deepwater Horizon accident as 'an historic opportunity' to finance its policy agenda." He argues the report overlooks data showing that "damages were limited and the Gulf is undergoing a strong recovery," which he says stems from "the Gulf's resilience, natural processes and the effectiveness of response and clean-up efforts mounted by BP under the direction of the federal government."