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Oil Spill as a Nature Disease

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As Dr. Jon Moore began his casually wonderful barefoot lecture, I began to realize the magnitude of his noteworthy success. Dr. Moore began to divulge his intensive marine research regarding the Gulf of Mexico’s 2010 oil spill in the presentation of, “Investigating the Deep Pelagic Animals in the Northern Gulf of Mexico after the BP Oil Spill’. Dr. Moore became part of “The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect and the potential associated impact of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health” (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019). 

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The program was funded by British Petroleum (BP) totaling a contribution of $500 million dollars. All the data found was made available to the public. This promoted transparency after the disaster and allowed collective research for the purpose of protecting this fragile ecosystem (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019). As a quick insight to the disaster, “On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing 210 million gallons of oil and gas into the surrounding ecosystem; the flow persisted for 87 days before the well was capped” (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019). 

As the lecture progressed, a few imminent questions began to surface; What happened to all the oil? What are the environmental impacts? And how can we prepare for future spills seeing as deep-well drilling has only increased since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. What happened to all the oil? Dr. Moore explained the surface oil covered an area the size of Oklahoma, which is approximately 70,000 square miles according to the United States Census Bureau (‘U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Oklahoma’ 2019). Yet, Dr. Moore stated the surface oil only accounted for a small percentage of the 210 million gallons leaked. 

Efforts such as siphoning and burning introduced a quick remedy for the surface oil but the magnitude of the spill deemed these efforts simply inadequate. The choice was made to introduce 700,000 gallons of a dispersant directly into the deep-ocean well in hope that the oil would dissolve before reaching the surface. Dr. Moore proclaimed the toxic dispersant was never tested before being introduced to the environment. Which leads back to the question, what happened to the oil? Dr. Moore’s research provided the answers. With underwater rovers, deep depth cameras, and NOAA NRDA Offshore Sampling/Analysis, they discovered the toxic dispersant created a deep water plume of oil droplets. 

Revealing at a depth of nearly 3600 feet below the surface, a thick fog-like chemical/oil plume that was 6336 ft. wide, 660 ft. high and extended for more than 256 miles southwest of the well (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019). Dr. Moore expressed the estimated majority, 75% of oil spill, ended up in this plume never to reach the surface which did not include the oil turned tar that sank to the ocean floor (Moore 2019).

The environmental impacts have only just begun. Due to a large lack of baseline data, Dr. Moore’s research findings had no previous quantitative data to compare against. However, a new study showed traces of oil pollutants that penetrated the Gulf of Mexico’s food-chain. In the Current Journal’s article, “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Organism and Habitats”, revealed a saturated analysis of oil in micro-plankton, which feeds the rest of the ecosystem (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019). 

This lead to the conclusions of marine population-level impacts, irreversible damage, and vast long-term health defects as a consequences of oil exposure. Sample data shows deformities, major organ defects/failure, loss of vision and rising mortality rates (Romero, et al. 2018). Speculations also suggest the spill as a contributor to the Gulf coast’s heightened red-tide blooms.

As a native Floridian, protecting the coastal environment is a priority. So how can we prepare for future spills? The answer is simply continued research. Research allows a better understanding in preservation of our delicate ecosystem. The Current Journal states “In July 2016, there were over 54,000 oil wells and 2,500 active drilling platforms found in the Gulf and Offshore drilling is occurring in increasingly deeper water in order to access larger oil reserves so The risk of catastrophic accidents increases as drilling is pushed to greater depths” (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative 2019).

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for off shore drilling. Until that changes, what can be done is truly valuable. We can learn and understand the environmental impacts of dispersants while creating nontoxic solutions. With continued focused research, our responding techniques of oil spills will help the environment and not further harm it. Although effects of this disaster still remain, Dr. Moore’s remarkable discoveries and research contributions have allowed insight into the Gulf of Mexico like never before. Dr. Moore documented more than 897 species of fish fauna and added 186 new records to the previously known 1,541 species in the Gulf (Moore 2019). 

As the Gulf of Mexico now contains one of the world’s four most diverse oceanic ecosystems. He concluded with results of the single most abundant species, the Pallid Bristlemouth, which accounting for nearly two thirds all the specimens collected. He proclaimed that the Pallid Bristlemouth is argued to be the most abundant species on the planet with their population ranging in the trillions (Moore 2019). Dr. Moore expressed how this research is now the baseline data for the gulf, which never existed before the BP spill. His publicity with such data has allowed technology and research techniques to significantly advance. With great admiration, Dr. Moore has expressed the vitality of education and research to further protect the diversity of the Gulf and prepare to provide environmental solutions for the next deep-ocean oil spill.

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