Oil Spill Six Months Out

Kim Hubbard/Audubon magazine
Today marks six months since the start of this country’s largest oil spill in history. On April 20, 2010, no one knew for how long the oil would continue to spew, how to stop it, how it would affect the fragile environs and wildlife it touched, or why it happened. Questions about its long-term damage are still up for debate.
Despite the permanent cap, oil’s still showing up along the Gulf Coast’s shores, and with fall migration, new and initially unharmed populations of birds are coming or returning to the region. Media coverage has plummeted, yet cleanup work continues (and will for some time). Here’s a look at some recent spill-related news:
Audubon Scientists See Oil
Last week, National Audubon Society published “Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort,” a report based on a weeklong late-September trip to the Gulf Coast by several of the organization's scientists. Among others, the group included Tom Bancroft, Audubon’s chief scientist and Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for Audubon’s Louisiana Coastal Initiative. Their focus: To determine how safe the region is for birds.
The scientists saw birds and they saw oil, sometimes in the same place. “The largest uncontrolled science experiment in our country is in many ways just beginning,” the report reads. But the Audubon team also saw reasons for hope and encouragement: Of the 10,000 birds they counted, only three were oiled, and the team saw large numbers of mature and juvenile pelicans. In the end, though, it’s still a wait-and-see game. “I’m apprehensive,” Driscoll states. “We saw birds’ stunning resilience, but also their sobering blindness to the perils before them.”
Click here for more details about the Audubon scientists’ trip and to download a full copy of the report.
The Cleanup Crew
Thirteen-thousand people and close to 300 boats are still responding daily to what Deepwater Horizon Unified Response calls “residual oiling” from Florida to Louisiana. (At their peak, these numbers were 48,000 people and 6,000 boats daily.) Work has started along the Florida panhandle and the Mississippi barrier islands, Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft stated yesterday.We actually kicked off what we call ‘Operation Deep Clean,’” he said. “That is to get the oil sediment out of that sand and literally sweep the beach, mile by mile, using mechanical devices.”
Some of the other cleanup work includes sampling and testing the water column and sediment, as well as seafood from areas reopened to fishing. “What we’re seeing at the higher end [of the water samples] is about 0.5, one half part per billion hydrocarbon,” Zukunft said. “It’s clearly not a recoverable amount of oil. And even in the sediments, we’re seeing similar, very low concentrations of oil as well.”
According to Zukunft, the spill’s impactbased on what is known to datecould have been far worse. He cited the 2,300 dead, oiled birds so far from Deepwater Horizon compared with 225,000 from Exxon Valdez. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said, “that the Gulf of Mexico is proving to be rather resilient after a spill of this magnitude.”

Noteworthy Numbers
- Last week, the U.S. government sent BP its seventh bill, in the amount of $62.6 million. So far, BP has paid out $518.4 million toward oil cleanup.
- Hammond Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Louisiana, where workers transported birds during the spill, has provided medical care to 1,545 oiled and injured wildlife.
- Response workers have collected more than 31,000 water and sediment samples and more than 2,700 seafood samples.

Visit audubonmagazine.org to read a story in the November-December Audubon that profiles several of the 34,500 people who signed up to volunteer with the National Audubon Society after the spill. Also, in the next few weeks, check the blog for video profiles of several more volunteers.
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