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Earth Talk After the BP oil spill, how much progress?

Assessments differ on how well the Gulf of Mexico has rebounded from the BP oil spill of 2010.


Assessments differ on how well the Gulf of Mexico has rebounded from the BP oil spill of 2010. U.S. DEFENSE DEPT. PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

Dear EarthTalk: The three-year anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill just passed. What do green groups think of the progress since in restoring the region?

— Mary Johannson, New York, N.Y.

When an undersea oil well blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010, and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig above it (killing 11 workers), no one knew that an even bigger disaster was yet to come. Over the next three months, 4.9 million gallons of crude poured into the water before BP could get the wellhead capped to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to BP, which has spent $14 billion on clean-up and restoration, the Gulf is returning to baseline conditions. “No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,” reports the company.

But not everybody sees it that way. Many environmentalists are concerned that, while BP has done a thorough job removing visible oil from the water column and surface, little has been done to repair damage to marine life and ecosystems.

“The impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” says Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. A recent report by the group found that the spill is still having a serious negative effect on wildlife populations in the Gulf. For one, dolphin deaths in the region have remained above average every single month since the disaster. In the first two months of 2013, infant dolphins were found dead at six times pre-spill average rates. Says Inkley: “These ongoing deaths — particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin — are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

NWF found that more than 1,700 sea turtles were stranded in coastal areas of the Gulf between May 2010 and November 2012 — almost three times the pre-spill rate for the animals. Researchers have also detected changes in the cellular function of Gulf killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain. And a coral colony seven miles from the wellhead struggles due to oil and dispersants compromising its ability to rebuild.

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” says Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald. “In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts.”

MacDonald and others are optimistic that a federal court will find BP accountable for further damages in a civil trial now underway. NWF says that substantially more money is needed to carry out restoration efforts vital to the biological and economic stability of the Gulf region.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine. (www.emagazine.com).

Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

Dear EarthTalk: Is nature photography good or bad for the environment?

e_SEmD Cal Moss, Camden, Maine

Nature photography is a wonderful way to share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with others. An obvious benefit of the art is raising awareness about and generating empathy for special landscapes and species. But too much love can be a bad thing if landscapes are trampled and wildlife is frightened.

The use of photography as a conservation tool dates back as far as photography itself. William Henry Jackson’s photos from his travels with the Hayden Expedition of the 1860s to survey the American West helped convince Congress to create Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Ansel Adams carried this torch forward a century later, opening millions of viewers’ eyes to the splendor of many an iconic western landscape. More recently wildlife photographers have gotten up close and personal to wild animals large and small so the rest of us can appreciate their beauty out of harm’s way.

But some say there is a dark side to all this exposure. In a provocative essay in the Fall 1997 issue of DoubleTake magazine, activist and author Bill McKibben argued that the world has enough wildlife photography and that continuing to invade the lives of animal subjects — given the vast oversupply of images already available — is counterproductive to the goals of preserving biodiversity.

Most wildlife photographers bristle at McKibben’s stance. “The real problem with wildlife photography is not that there is too much of it but that photographers … are failing to reflect natural diversity,” argues UKbased nature photographer Niall Benvie. “Far from inhibiting productivity, it needs to be expanded greatly.”

In the U.S., some national parks have begun to limit visitorship at specific photo-friendly spots to make sure that trails don’t get inadvertently widened and native vegetation trampled.

What the nature photographers of the world, amateurs and pros alike, can agree on is that they want their subject matter to live on. Being respectful of landscapes and wildlife in the quest to “get the shot” is all that’s needed to keep nature photography from becoming a scourge on the environment.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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