After the Spill
While much of the Gulf of Mexico has returned to normal, sea life is still being affected by the 2010 oil spill
Government organizations are monitoring the health of sea life in the Gulf of Mexico. (Jim McMahon)
Fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico have been catching some very strange-looking shrimp, crabs, and fish recently. Scientists and seafood processors are also finding many types of deformed sea creatures, and they believe the animals have been damaged as a result of the oil-spill disaster in the Gulf.
On April 20, 2010, an oil rig called the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion killed 11 oil workers. For almost five months, more than 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf. BP, the oil company that rented the rig, wasn’t able to plug the leak until September 19.
The 2010 disaster was the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and the effects are still being felt in the region. But scientists say it could take a long time to pinpoint whether or not the BP spill is the direct cause of the rise in damaged and deformed sea creatures in the area.
Shrimp without eyes and crabs without claws are the most common mutations that have been reported in the Gulf. Fish covered in oozing sores have also turned up. Some scientists believe the chemicals released during the spill and the cleanup efforts by BP have caused these mutations in the sea life.
Mutations are permanent genetic changes that are passed on when cells divide. Many mutations don’t affect the animal or plant negatively. But some mutations—like the ones reported in shrimp and crabs in the Gulf—produce new traits in the new cells or offspring. These new traits usually prove harmful.
Reports of mutant shrimp are coming from across the Gulf states.
“At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these [eyeless shrimp],” Tracy Kuhns, a commercial fisherman from Louisiana, told the news organization Al Jazeera.
Sidney Schwartz, a fourth-generation fisherman in Mobile Bay, Alabama, told Al Jazeera that he has seen shrimp with their shells missing around their gills and head. “We've fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this,” Schwartz said.
TESTING THE WATERS
Organizations in Gulf states as well as agencies from the federal government regularly test and monitor the waters and sea life in the Gulf of Mexico. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat.
“Diseased fish aren't allowed to be sold,” Robert W. Dickey, head of the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory, told the Associated Press. “It's important to emphasize that we're talking about a low percentage of fish. It doesn't represent a seafood safety hazard.”
Although Gulf seafood has been found safe for humans to eat, scientists continue to study the effects of the oil and chemicals from the Deepwater Horizon spill.