The calamitous explosion and oil spill at BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 “flattened” biodiversity in the surrounding waters, according to a study published last week.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster “fouled more than 1,300 miles of coastline, caking seabirds and killing sea creatures and other wildlife, leading to huge financial losses for the tourism and fishing industries,” The Guardian recalls, in a story reposted by Grist. But University of Southern Mississippi microbial ecologist Leila Hamdan, lead author of the latest study, “said the oil’s impact on microbes, each measuring just a fraction of a millimetre, could prove even more significant given their foundational role at the base of the ocean food chain.”
“At the sites closest to the spill, biodiversity was flattened,” Hamdan said. “There were fewer types of microbes. This is a cold, dark environment, and anything you put down there will be longer lasting than oil on a beach in Florida. It’s premature to imagine that all the effects of the spill are over and remediated.”
Based on sediment samples collected in 2014, the research team found that “lingering oil residues have altered the basic building blocks of life in the ocean, by reducing biodiversity in sites closest to the spill,” The Guardian reports. The explosion killed 11 workers and dumped about four million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
The study landed just as Donald Trump was issuing an executive order revoking ocean protections enacted by President Barack Obama in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But Hamdan said the worst of that disaster may still be ahead.
“We rely heavily on the ocean, and we could be looking at potential effects to the food supply down the road,” she said. “Deep sea microbes regulate carbon in the atmosphere and recycle nutrients. I’m concerned there will be larger consequences from this sort of event.”
Former Obama environmental advisor Christy Goldfuss, now a senior vice-president at the Center for American Progress, called the Trump executive order an “all-out war on America’s oceans”. She added that “Trump is trying to wash his hands of responsibility for the real and urgent threats facing America’s coastal communities—namely, the impacts of climate change.”