Oil spill impact on wildlife will be significant - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Oil spill impact on wildlife will be significant

ROBERT, LA (WLOX) - This oil spill is significant and its impact will be felt on wildlife for years and even decades to come. That is the message from a joint briefing by Federal and State Wildlife experts who are heading up the ecological response on the oil spill in the gulf.

The team of scientists expressed concern about the long term impact of the oil on birds and sea life because it can impact their habitat and get into the food chain and impact reproduction.

NOAA Fisheries Scientific Programs Director and Chief Science Advisor Dr. Steve Murawski said in the Gulf region there have been 162 turtle strandings or deaths. He said that rate is significantly up when compared to previous years, "especially in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama."

Murawski did caution what's being reported could be skewed by the fact that so many people are patrolling the shoreline looking for wildlife that is either in trouble or dead. Murawski said the dead turtles are undergoing necropsies to determine what caused their deaths.

The scientists gathered also said they are monitoring the seafood supply and making sure it is safe for consumption. One of the fisheries experts said the overall risk of oil in seafood is relatively low for humans, because moderately to lightly oiled sea life can clear oil through their systems in a few days.

Dr. Glenn Plumb with the National Park Service also talked about the impact on park lands in the gulf region including Gulf Islands National Seashore. Plumb said there is concern about loss of habitat from first responders who are trying to keep oil out or clean it up. Plumb said they "don't want the cure to be worse than the disease."

Long term they are concerned about the movement of contaminants inland, into wildlife habitat and the ecosystem.

Visibly oiled wildlife is only the tip of the iceberg of the impact said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Senior Science Advisor and Unified Area Command Liaison Officer Dr. Ralph Morgenweck. He said they are very concerned about what they can't see. Morgenweck pointed out that millions of birds migrate through the area of the spill and they are foraging the same waters for food.

He said of immediate concern are local birds like Brown Pelicans and Least Terns that are breeding right now along the Gulf Coast.

"They will bear the brunt of the immediate impact," Morgenweck said. He added that fortunately the birds that migrate for the winter are already further north breeding up around Canada.

In all 1.3 million feet of containment boom has been deployed to protect marshes of the Gulf Coast. But, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chief of the Division of Environmental Quality, Dr. Roger Helm said they are most concern about the sub surface oil and the dispersants and that its "impact is very significant."

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