April 30, 2010

Oil Spill In Gulf Could Threaten Florida

Picture taken from a NASA satellite on Sunday shows the Mississippi Delta on the tip of Louisiana at the center. The oil slick is a silvery swirl to the right.

An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control and started washing ashore along the Gulf Coast Thursday night. The spill was both bigger and closer than imagined.

Marine animals at risk
Sperm whales The major concern is that when they surface to breathe, they can inhale toxic fumes. It's unclear how much it would take to be fatal.

Bluefin tunas Western Atlantic population of the bluefin tuna is at the peak of spawning season. Atlantic tarpon also spawn now.

Sea turtles Time for building nests and laying eggs on the beach is just beginning. A spill can block access to beaches, or if ingested in sufficient quanties can poison the turtles.

Oysters Oysters can't move out of the way. They are efficient filter feeders, which means they'll help clean the water -- but oil will stay in the oyster itself, and there's no way to get it out. Too much is toxic.

Wildlife and habitats at risk
Birds and marine mammals along the Louisiana coast are most at risk from the spill. Their habitat is at risk, too. Shorelines all around the gulf as well as Floridaƕs Keys and east coast could be endangered.

Brown pelican Oil coats their feathers, preventing them from flying and feeding. As they preen, pelicans can consume the toxic oil.

Snowy plover Feeds on small invertebrates or oysters. At risk when oil comes ashore or affects their food sources.

Mangroves Oil sticks to prop roots that let the plant "breathe" and smothers the plants, which are nurseries for many species, such as shrimp.

Salt marshes Oil coats plants like cordgrass, blocking them from absorbing sun or exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen.

Seagrass Oil can smother the grass, which provides food for many marine life.

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