The BP Gulf Oil Spill, which began with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon April 20, and which now covers an area about the size of Connecticut, and which is probably already larger than the Exxon Valdez spill, is imperiling birds, fish, turtles, mammals, seafood, fishermen and some of the world's most productive wildlife habitat.
Here's a look at some of the most useful and interesting maps showing the extent of the Gulf Oil Spill, the amount of oil spilled, the wildlife habitat and important bird areas threatened, and other key aspects that illustrate the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to offshore oil drilling, inadequate government oversight and various human and equipment failures that resulted in the ongoing oil leak. Remember, though, that much of the oil spill is beneath the surface, and not yet included on any map.
Important Bird Areas are upper-case designations areas delineated by scientists because large numbers of birds (or sometimes small numbers of endangered birds) live or breed there, or stopover during migrations. The Gulf of Mexico is such an important habitat that there are few places from Texas to the Florida Panhandle that are not important for birds. Both the American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society identified important bird habitat threatened by the Gulf Oil Spill with maps:
The National Audubon Society Google map shows Important Bird Areas (in red) and the extent of the spill. Click on red patches to learn more about the bird habitat threatened by the BP Gulf Oil Spill.
Birds aren't the only species threatened by the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Turtles are also among those threatened, as this National Marine Fisheries Service map of Kemp's Ridley turtle shows. Kemp's Ridley turtle is the smallest marine turtle in the world, and endangered throughout its range. It's only known breeding habitat is along the coasts of Texas and Mexico; as the young leave the beach, however, they'll enter the loop current and be carried out to the Atlantic, most likely through the oil slick, "potentially poisoning a generation of those turtles," according to Douglas N. Rader, the chief ocean scientist for Environmental Defense Fund.
NOAA manages fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, and has expanded a fishing closure in parts of the Gulf of Mexico because of the widening extent of the BP oil spill. Now, 37% of federal Gulf waters, up to the border of Cuba's waters, are closed to fishing.
The Gulf of Mexico produces nearly three-quarters of all U.S. shrimp, valued at $366.6 million in 2008, or more than half the value of all Gulf of Mexico fisheries. It produces more than two-thirds of all U.S. oysters, valued at more than $60 million. It produces about 30% of all crabs, valued at nearly $40 million. Forty-two species of finfish (like red snapper), as well as sharks, draw out 3.2 million anglers every year. This entire industry is threatened, as the oil affects some species in spawning, some in juvenile stages ... and some on the plate, as consumers shy away from Gulf species they fear could be tainted. Here's a look at NOAA's fisheries closure map:
Federal waters start several miles from shore. States on the Gulf Coast have closed many fishing areas because of the oil spill. Here's a look at fishing closure map from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources have also closed state waters in the Gulf: in Alabama from the east end of Dauphin Island to the Mississippi state line, and in Mississippi from (no maps available). The closures include not only finfish, but shrimp, oysters and crabs. As of June 2, Florida's state waters remained open for fishing.
Not only commercial species of fish, but other species are at risk from the BP Gulf Oil Spill, including gulf sturgeon, a threatened species. Its habitat is shown on this Center for Biological Diversity map, along with habitat of another endangered species, the piping plover.
Updated routinely, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration maps show the forecast for ocean conditions affecting the oil slick floating away from the seabed gusher where the Deepwater Horizon used to be. Here's a look at the latest:
The Gulf oil spill could spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, and then progress up the Atlantic, thanks to ocean patterns known as the "Loop Current." Already, tar balls have washed ashore in the Florida Keys. This loop current map is from NOAA:
We can't show you all of the informative maps of the Gulf Oil Spill that exist, but here are links to some of the others worth your attention:
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