As images of lifeless black-slicked birds and limp sea turtles begin to flood the media, it is becoming apparent just how catastrophic the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is becoming. (Oil “spill,” which would imply a contained amount, seems a rather gaping misnomer–it’s more of a gushing leak, direct from the source.) No one can predict how long it will continue and just how devastating this disaster might prove to be.
One thing is clear: The fragile ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico are at great risk. Adding to the tragedy is that this is an incredibly vital area–and an incredibly vital time of year–for countless numbers of species that come for refuge to this specific stretch of the country to breed, nest, spawn, feed, and rest during migration. Peak migration and breeding times are late-April through mid-May. It really could not be worse timing.
As noted in The New York Times, “even the frantic preparations to protect the most vulnerable coastlines likely will not prevent devastating harm to key species as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill hits shore at the worst possible time for migration and breeding.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the oil spill could affect up to 20 national wildlife refuges, and four covering more than 70,000 acres are in immediate concern.
Which animals are most threatened by this nightmare of an environmental disaster? Here is a round-up of some of those most in peril.
1. Nesting and Migrating Shore Birds
Shorebirds such as plovers, sandpipers and oystercatchers are nesting or preparing to nest on beaches and barrier islands in Louisiana. Those that build their nests on the ground and feed on invertebrates are vulnerable to oil coming ashore.
Many shore birds are also making their spring migration through the area, and habitually stop along the Gulf Coast to rest and feed. Shorebirds currently coming from wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in boreal forests and arctic tundra congregate in large numbers on beaches and barrier islands during the last week of April and first week of May–as chance would have it, the two weeks of the entire year that migration peaks. Experts are very concerned for a number of different bird groups and species based on the uncanny timing and the possible scope of the impact.