Ecologically, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would seem to be on a collision course with spring. Nesting season has just begun for the myriad of migratory birds that return each year to the northern beaches and barrier islands, and the nesting season for sea turtles is rapidly approaching. Small populations of dolphins are calving nearshore, and virtually the entire western Atlantic stock of one of the world’s most prized (and endangered) commercial fish is in the Gulf this month to spawn. It’s hard to imagine a worse time of the year for what’s happening. Here’s a brief field guide.
1. Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
2. Bottlenose dolphins
3. Western Atlantic bluefin tuna
The western Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the most highly valued commercial fish in the world, which has also made it one of the most endangered commercial fish in the world. It’s been depleted from years of commerce, is considered critically endangered by the IUCN, and, along with its eastern Atlantic counterpart, has been the focus of a thus-far unsuccessful U.S. effort to ban its sale in international trade. Every year, from mid-April to June, the entire population migrates into the Gulf and Florida Straits to spawn, and large numbers could be exposed particularly as the spill heads east to Florida.
4. Sharpnose sharks and friends
The Gulf hosts ten species of sharks considered threatened by the IUCN Red List, the global index of species in peril. Many of these species, like the sharpnose shark, are breeding right now, using the coastal waters of the northern Gulf as their nurseries. The nurseries include seagrass beds off the Chandeleur Islands in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, which now seem practically surrounded by emulsified oil and sheen. Whale sharks, another threatened species, are filter feeders and could be affected by ingested oil.
5. Birds galore
The spill couldn’t have come at a worse time for wildlife.
Photo credits: NPS Photo, NRDC, NRDC