The specter of BP's massive oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico still looms large 4 1/2 years after the disaster unfolded. Out of the 206 million gallons of crude that streamed out of the Macondo deep-sea well beginning in April 2010, a new study estimates about 10 million gallons remain coagulated on the seafloor in a 1,200-square-mile ring around the drilling site.
Plenty of questions about ecological impacts also remain, though evidence of the devastation continues to be ascertained. That new study, published this week, also substantiates previous research that found oil coated coral in the deep waters.
While Manatee County escaped environmental damage, the region will benefit from BP reparations. At last week's annual Saltwater Summit, held in Cape Coral, Herald night metro editor Terry O'Connor reported that Florida stands to gain some $600 million for five projects. Manatee is in line to participate in three of those -- Gulf Coast fish tagging, boater seagrass education and a reef fish catch-and-release program. The funding for restoration projects is expected to be released early next year in what is only the beginning of BP penalty payments into the federal RESTORE Act's Gulf Coast recovery efforts.
The extraordinary impacts of the horrific, 87-day spill after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig are still being discovered. This summer, researchers found the oil significantly slows the swimming speed of one of the ocean's swiftest fish, mahi-mahi. A carnivore, this fish requires speed to survive.
Also this year, researchers discovered BP oil deforms the hearts and other organs of tuna and amberjack, expected to be life-shortening if not fatal. Last year, another study found oil damages the health of bottlenose dolphins -- often seen along our shorelines and inlets.
Along with the crude, 1.84 million gallons of oil dispersant were released into the Gulf, and that mixture has been found under the shells of small blue crab larvae. This toxic brew has spread throughout the food chain via zooplankton. Considering the oil spill covered almost 360 square miles, toxins could filter up the food chain for generations.
In 2013, researchers found seafloor oil did not appear to be degrading. With the newly found expansive oil ring on the seafloor, the outlook for the future and the threat to marine life becomes more troubling.
The Gulf is a precious natural resource to coastal communities, and the federal government should not become lax with any efforts to protect those waters and shores. Manatee County enjoys a major economic impact from recreational and commercial fishing, and restoring critical habitat is essential to the future.
The BP-funded restoration projects recommended by the Saltwater Summit are another step in the right direction.