Posts Tagged 'deepwater horizon'

Reflecting On the 25 Years Since the Exxon Valdez Spill

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Oil spills have been an on-going topic of interest to the public for centuries, but was rapidly thrust to the spotlight 25 years ago when the Exxon Valdez vessel grounded in Prince William Sound, Alaska and discharged 11 million gallons of crude oil.

**Images via Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Despite a broadened awareness of environmental risks, more stringent regulations and increased safety methods, the efforts to decrease oil spills on a global level have been largely unsuccessful.

There are multi-disciplinary studies to quantify the effects of oil on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the wildlife that inhabits those ecosystems and the social and economic impacts to communities.  The pictures of oiled wildlife from the Exxon Valdez spill, similar to the ones from the Deepwater Horizon spill a generation later, and the recent photos from last month’s Houston ship channel spill are devastating.

Kemp's Ridley BP Oil Spill

This Kemp’s Ridley turtle was recovered from the site of the Deep Horizon accident site on June 14, 2010. Photo via Carolyn Cole/LA Times.

The immediate threat to wildlife and the human communities that depend on healthy natural resources is obvious.  The long-term effects on our ecosystems (through direct exposure of through food chain interactions), while not as readily apparent, is equally concerning.  These emerging impacts are profound in any environment, but when the oil is released in a spawning or nursery area like the Gulf of Mexico, effects can be compounded and impact entire year classes of fish.  A recently published study found that even passing exposure to petroleum compounds can cause damages in developing embryos that may ultimately prove lethal months to years later.

Protecting wildlife from oil spill incidents, and subsequently responding to oiled animals are not easy tasks. While all plants and animals can be affected by oil spills, the most visible and easily accessible animals are typically those that are collected to be decontaminated and rehabilitated. Examples often include birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Oiled wildlife response is just one small part of the overall spill response.

Our Animal Rescue team ensures our preparedness to respond to oil spill events involving marine mammals or sea turtles in our area by participating in oil spill training and drills, maintaining internal protocols, and meeting with the Regional Response Team for our area (RRT III). RRT III is a group of federal, state and local organizations that oversee written plans for response to oil spill events within the region of Pennsylvania through Virginia. These plans, known as Area Contingency Plans, include information such as: environmentally sensitive species/areas, culturally sensitive areas, high risk locations and critical infrastructure.

Our dependence on fossils fuels ensures that there will always be a risk of oils spills. To mitigate for this risk we need to understand the true cost of this dependence and take responsibility for making better life style decisions in our daily routines.

Support and implementation of cleaner energy alternatives will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and the risk of oil spill events.

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Conservation Update: Seismic Airgun Testing

national aquarium conservation update

While the Mid-Atlantic coast has never been a hot spot for oil exploration, new technologies and pressure to cut our dependence on foreign energy sources has created renewed interest in discovering what lies just beneath the sea floor.

Recent offshore activity was cut short however in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Later that year, all offshore drilling for petroleum deposits along the Mid-Atlantic coast was suspended until 2017. But 2017 is just around the corner, and oil and gas companies are requesting permission to survey for deposits under the ocean floor in anticipation of being able to drill in the near future.

The survey technique that will be used is called “seismic airgun testing.” This survey technique uses sound waves generated by an airgun aimed towards the ocean floor to determine the possible locations of petroleum deposits. The sounds waves are reflected as they reach the bottom of the sea and are sent back towards the surface. The specific signature of the reflected sound waves can be interpreted to determine the composition of the below-surface substrate.

Critics of this technique are concerned that the level of noise generated by the airgun surveys is too extreme and will be harmful to marine life. They say the intensity of sound required to collect data from miles below the sea floor is so high that it has the potential to harm marine mammals, sea turtles and fish. Animals may strand, suffer from hearing loss and/or lose their ability to capture prey. At a time when hundreds of marine mammals in the region have succumbed to a deadly virus, some groups say the additional impact the surveys will have on wildlife is too great.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is currently considering accepting a draft environmental impact statement that would effectively open up the Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (along the coast from Delaware to Florida) to seismic airgun testing. They are expected to make their decision in the spring of 2014.

If you are interested in offshore resource management or ocean wildlife, join us at the Aquarium on October 17th at 7pm, as we hear from experts on all sides of the debate regarding the need for domestic energy sources, survey techniques, current status of marine resources in the area, and the possible effects of testing on those resources!

Blast Zone Warning: Educational Forum 

WHAT: Learn more about seismic airgun testing and hear from experts: Oceana scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck, Dr. Chris Moore (Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council), Tommy Landers (Maryland Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network) and other professionals in the fields of marine mammal acoustics.

WHEN: Thursday, October 17 at 7pm

WHERE: National Aquarium, 501 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202

This event is free and open to the public!

Laura Bankey


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