Oil Spill Update: Farmers Flood Fields for Migratory Birds; Sea Turtle Egg Relocation; Storm Halts Cleanup; EPA Tests Dispersant

Western sandpipers breed in Western Alaska and will soon arrive at their summer grounds in the Gulf. Photo: USFWS 

It’s been 70 days since the Gulf oil spill began. Tens of millions of gallons have leaked from BP’s runaway well, located 40 miles off Louisiana’s coast and 5,000 feet beneath the surface. Here’s the latest on wildlife rescue efforts, concerns about chemical dispersants, and Nigeria’s ire over the oil spill double standard. 

Makeshift Migratory Bird Habitat
The federal government announced on Monday that it will pay landowners to flood low-lying lands in Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida to create alternative resting and wintering grounds for migratory birds. Up to $20 million has been allocated for the initiative, which aims to attract birds to the safe havens before they reach oiled beaches and marshes. The gulf region sits beneath one of the world's major migratory flyways, with about 1 billion birds from more than 300 species passing through annually, Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the Audubon, told the L.A. Times. "None of this is guaranteed to work," Butcher said. "We're expecting that this will work at least a little bit. We're hoping that it'll help a lot." 

Loggerhead turtle at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge along central Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The refuge hosts the largest concentration of nesting loggerheads in the western hemisphere. Photo: USFWS

Relocating Sea Turtle Eggs
Wildlife experts are getting ready to remove tens of thousands of endangered sea turtle eggs from 700-800 nests in Alabama and northwestern Florida, and truck them hundreds of miles to Atlantic Coast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Charles Underwood told Reuters that it’s an unprecedented effort. "Relocating sea turtle nests on occasion, nest by nest, in very small numbers, has been done before (but) nothing has even been considered at this massive scale," Underwood told Reuters. "It's never been attempted anywhere in the world." Officials are focusing their efforts on loggerhead turtles, the most prevalent of five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles in the Gulf. Click here for more on how the spill is affecting turtles.
EPA Says Dispersants “Slightly Toxic”
Corexit, the chemical dispersant that BP is pouring on the oil slick, is intended to break down the crude into smaller globs that microbes can more easily digest. But there have been concerns that the dispersant may be as, or more, toxic than the oil to marine life. Today, the EPA released the findings of initial tests of Corexit and other dispersants. The substances were tested on shrimp and inland silverside (a small fish), and ranged from “practically nontoxic’’ to “slightly toxic’’; the report didn’t specify their efficacy in breaking up oil. As The New York Times points out, the labs have not yet tested the toxicity of dispersants when mixed with oil, or products formed by the oil-dispersant mix when it is digested by microbes.

For more on the possible impacts of dispersants on marine life, On Earth has an interview with marine toxicologist Susan Shaw, who is calling for the Obama administration to halt BP's use of Corexit—or any other dispersant—in response to the BP oil spill. 

Hurricane Alex Delays Cleanup Efforts
Tropical storm Alex, the first major storm of the season, is bearing down on Mexico and South Texas, but its power is being felt hundreds of miles away, hindering oil spill cleanup efforts. Massive waves and rough seas have forced crews to suspend skimming operations and controlled burns. Officials say the storm won’t interrupt efforts to plug the leaking well. And there might even be a silver lining: Alex could help disperse some of the oil, according to NOAA (click here for a NOAA fact sheet on hurricanes and oil spills—note: it’s a pdf). The agency says that Alex is unlikely to drive oil inland. 
Oil Spill Double Standard
We’re all understandably outraged by the BP oil spill, but spills of vast quantities of oil intended for our consumption happen regularly in other countries. For instance, people living in the Niger Delta have experienced spills equal to the Exxon Valdez disaster every year for the last half-century, according to Amnesty International.
From CNN:
"It's funny because we've been dealing with this problem for 50 years. I even heard BP will pay $20 billion in damages (for the U.S. spill). When will such hope come to the Niger Delta?" asked Ken Tebe, a local environmental activist. The U.S. imports about eight percent of its oil from Nigeria. That is nearly half of Nigeria's daily oil production and makes Nigeria the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the United States.
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