The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 devastated the Gulf of Mexico ecologically and economically. However, a new study published in Conservation Letters reveals that the true impact of the disaster on wildlife may be gravely underestimated. The study argues that fatality figures based on the number of recovered animal carcasses will not give a true death toll, which may be 50 times higher than believed.
"The Deepwater oil spill was the largest in US history, however, the recorded impact on wildlife was relatively low, leading to suggestions that the environmental damage of the disaster was actually modest," said lead author Dr Rob Williams from the University of British Columbia."This is because reports have implied that the number of carcasses recovered, 101, equals the number of animals killed by the spill."
The team focused their research on 14 species of cetacean, an order of mammals including whales and dolphins. While the number of recovered carcasses has been assumed to equal the number of deaths, the team argues that marine conditions and the fact that many deaths will have occurred far from shore mean recovered carcasses will only account for a small proportion of deaths.
To illustrate their point, the team multiplied recent species abundance estimates by the species mortality rate. An annual carcass recovery rate was then estimated by dividing the mean number of observed strandings each year by the estimate of annual mortality.
The team's analysis suggests that only 2% of cetacean carcasses were ever historically recovered after their deaths in this region, meaning that the true death toll from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be 50 times higher than the number of deaths currently estimated.
"This figure illustrates that carcass counts are hugely mis-leading, if used to measure the disaster's death toll," said co-author Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium "No study on carcass recovery from strandings has ever recovered anything close to 100% of the deaths occurring in any cetacean population. The highest rate we found was only 6.2%, which implied 16 deaths for every carcass recovered."
The reason for the gulf between the estimates may simply be due to the challenges of working in the marine environment. The Deepwater disaster took place 40 miles offshore, in 1500m of water, which is partly why estimates of oil flow rates during the spill were so difficult to make.
"The same factors that made it difficult to work on the spill also confound attempts to evaluate environmental damages caused by the spill," said Williams. "Consequently, we need to embrace a similar level of humility when quantifying the death tolls."
If the approach outlined by this study were to be adopted the team believe this may present an opportunity to use the disaster to develop new conservation tools that can be applied more broadly, revealing the environmental impacts of other human activities in the marine environment.
"The finding that strandings represent a very low proportion of the true deaths is also critical in considering the magnitude of other human causes of mortality like ship strikes, where the real impacts may similarly be dramatically underestimated by the numbers observed" said John Calambokidis, a Researcher with Cascadia Research and a co-author on the publication.
"Our concern also applies to certain interactions with fishing gear, because there are not always systematic data with which to accurately estimate by-catch, especially for large whales", noted Jooke Robbins, a co-author from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. "When only opportunistic observations are available, these likely reflect a fraction of the problem."
"While we did not conduct a study to estimate the actual number of deaths from the oil spill, our research reveals that the accepted figures are a grave underestimation," concluded Dr. Williams. "We now urge methodological development to develop appropriate multipliers so that we discover the true cost of this tragedy."
Ben Norman | EurekAlert!
Joint research project on wastewater for reuse examines pond system in Namibia
19.12.2016 | Technische Universität Darmstadt
Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.
Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
16.01.2017 | Information Technology
16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering