BP oil spill effects still being seenBy Katherine Martin | 04/20/2011 9:06am
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest oil spills in history.
The impact of the spill continues to affect those who live and work on the Gulf coast even though the well was capped in July.
Elizabeth Gravlee, a junior from Fairhope, Ala., said the spill affected the Gulf coast economy including the real estate, tourism, seafood and retail industries within the past year.
Gravlee’s parents’ businesses were directly impacted from the oil spill because they both rely on business from tourists. In the past year, she said there were not as many customers.
“I think everyone is starting forget about the oil spill because there are not any visible effects now,” Gravlee said. “However, we will probably still see effects from the spill years down the road.”
Gravlee said Gulf coast residents have tried to move on from the spill and hope everything will be back to normal soon.
“I am curious to see if the tourism will pick up during the upcoming summer months,” she said.
John Wathen, the Hurricane Creekkeeper, recently won an award for the blog he started after visiting Mobile right after the oil rig sank.
Wathen said since there was a lot of news coming in quickly, he kept the blog to help him remember everything and save links.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel like we were being told the truth,” Wathen said. “I created the BP Slick blog in order to catalog the news as it came in as an archive and supplement it with my own reports, photographs and videos.”
Matthew Jenny, an assistant professor in the department of biological sciences, said the extent of the effects to the Gulf of Mexico are still being studied and scientists are still trying to determine the oil’s impact on the ecosystem.
However, Jenny said, scientists are confident that the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem will recover from the spill in time.
“Every ecosystem is different and therefore the effects of an oil spill will be different for every ecosystem,” Jenny said. “While a specific time frame cannot be determined, I think there is a good chance of full recovery within the next decade.”
Wathen, who just visited the coast last weekend, said right now, 99 percent of the Gulf is open for fishing and has supposedly tested safe for consumption, but the fishermen won’t eat their catch.
Wathen said the effects of the spill are still evident along the coast.
“There’s oil in the shrimp, there’s oil in the crabs,” Wathen said. “We’ve got dolphins washing up on our beaches in unprecedented numbers with unprecedented lesions on their skin. This is not normal.”
Doctors are also starting to see sick people with lesions on their skin, Wathen said. They are being treated for Staph infection, but the antibiotics aren’t working.
Wathen said these lesions are coming from a genetically engineered bacterium that has been released in the Gulf to consume the oil.
“If you think about oil and human beings,” Wathen said, “we’re both carbon-based features on the earth, and if it eats carbon, it eats us as well. Getting in the Gulf right now, in my personal opinion, is not a wise thing to do whether you can see oil or not.”
However, Jenny said no bacteria were released into the Gulf to eat the oil.
“There are naturally occurring bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico that are capable of efficiently degrading the oil, and they have been there for about as long as the Gulf has existed,” Jenny said. “They have no detrimental effects on animals or humans.”
Jenny said the Gulf is safe for swimming because most of the inshore oil along the coast is likely buried in sediment and will continue to degrade.
Gravlee also said she thinks the Gulf is safe for swimming and also fishing and other activities.
Olivia Bensinger, a member of the University of Alabama Environmental Council, said right now, students need to have the right information about the spill.
“We need to start putting out an effort to make BP pay for the rest of the clean up and for them to stop using toxic dispersants,” Bensinger said. “The clean up workers are getting sick, not just from the oil, but from the chemicals used to clean it. We just need to stay strong against BP and not forget the people that are still fighting for their lives today.”
Bensinger said she would not recommend students going to help with the clean up effort because regulations are not being followed and people are getting sick.
Instead, she said students should continue to keep pressure on those responsible.
Like Bensinger, Wathen said accountability is an absolute must.
In addition to accountability, Wathen said there needs to be total transparency with all aspects of information.
“The American public needs to have immediate access to all information coming out of the Gulf of Mexico so we can make educated decisions in the nation’s breadbasket about whether to take a vacation and subject our grandchildren to what could be a toxic cocktail,” he said.
Wathen also encouraged people to start voting their environmental conscience instead of voting the same way as their parents.
Just because Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi are historically red states, Wathen said there is no reason they should remain that way if the existing political structure allows disasters like the BP spill to happen.
“I’m not a Republican, and I’m not a Democrat,” Wathen said. “I am an American who votes for the person who hurts me the very least.”
Most importantly on the anniversary of the BP oil spill, Bensinger said it is important to remember the eleven brave men who lost their lives on the oilrig.
“I would like students to remember this day as mournful for the lives lost, but not in an apathetic way,” she said. “This anniversary should call people to action. There are still people being affected, and on this day we need to remember them.”