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Gulf of Mexico oil slick threatens some of world’s richest ecosystems

The oil slick from an explosion on a BP offshore drilling rig is now heading for the coastal areas of US states located along the Gulf of Mexico, threatening some of the richest ecosystems in the world, as well as the region’s economy.


An explosion on a BP offshore drilling rig on April 20 released a swathe of oil into the Gulf of Mexico that now threatens the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The oil slick could cause a major environmental catastrophe in a region whose ecosystems are both rich and fragile. An area of mainly marshes and swamplands, the Gulf Coast states are home to diverse species of fish and crustaceans, as well as whales, alligators, marine tortoises, dolphins, pelicans and other migratory birds. Two key nature sanctuaries that are havens of biodiversity are also based in the area. 

‘The birds will hide in order to die’

The BP oil slick comes at a particularly delicate time for many fauna. “The reproduction period has just begun for many species, including trout and shrimp”, said Jennifer Knock, FRANCE 24’s specialist on the environment.

The particular geography of the area compounds the problem. If the oil reaches the coasts and coats the vegetation and sand, cleaning and rescuing animals will be very difficult, said Alain Bougrain-Dubourg, president of the League for the Protection of Birds. “The area consists of many small islands, places where it is very difficult to penetrate”, he said.

“The birds will hide in order to die, and one will not be able to find them as one would on the beaches of the Atlantic,” he told FRANCE 24. This could result in very high mortality rates, he said.

State of emergency

The BP spill is also likely to have significant economic consequences in a region known not only for its beaches and tourism, but also for fishing and aquiculture, important pillars of the economy. Louisiana is the largest US producer of shrimp, and shrimpers from the state have already filed a class-action suit against BP.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday while the White House pledged to use “all available resources”, including military assets, to combat the threat from the spill.

US President Barack Obama, for one, is well aware that the crisis could also have political consequences. The floating layer of oil is heading for the Gulf Coast just a few weeks after Obama announced plans to expand off-shore oil drilling and gas exploration, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

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