An oily surprise awaits migrating birds.
Several million birds will be flying through the Gulf area this fall as they make their annual southbound migration. While the oil spill is old news to us, these flocks coming down from Canada are in for quite a surprise when they reach the oiled Gulf waters and marshes. One ornithologist compared the situation to a “lurking time bomb” awaiting the waterfowl and shorebirds that count on the region for shelter and food as they pass through or stop to make their winter homes.
Many people have been wondering just where all those millions of gallons oil went, but we know where at least some of it is: a recent test on a barrier island off Louisiana found oil-saturated sand just a half inch from the surface which continued down more than a foot. What does this mean for the migrators? After their long journey from Canada, and with many birds still facing a long trip to South America and the Caribbean, a pit stop in the Gulf of Mexico offers a prime opportunity to eat and store fat. Many shorebirds dine on small invertebrates -- animals without backbones, such as fish larvae, plankton, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, shrimp and bivalves – that normally live in the sand along the shore. Unfortunately, the oil wiped out this vital food source in many places and what remains may be contaminated.
It’s not clear yet how the ongoing situation in the Gulf will ultimately affect bird populations, but EarthShare member charities including the National Audubon Society are on the ground working with teams of volunteers and professionals to monitor bird behavior and health in the coming months and years. Scroll down to find out how you can help.
Farewell to the world’s smallest seahorse?
We got used to seeing larger wildlife like pelicans coated in oil in the aftermath of the BP spill, but some of the hardest hit by the disaster in the Gulf are barely visible creatures. Conservationists from the Zoological Society of London’s Project Seahorse are warning that at least one species, the dwarf seahorse, is in serious danger of extinction. Barely two inches long, the dwarf seahorse is unique to the Gulf and lives primarily in the shallow waters and sea grasses. These areas are most vulnerable to damage from toxic crude because oil tends to collect there, forming thick clouds and preventing light from reaching the grass. Earlier attempts by BP to prevent oil from reaching shores by burning these grassy areas only added to the destruction.
It seems the odds are stacked against these tiny creatures. Turns out dwarf seahorses are poor swimmers, and because they mate for life they produce relatively few offspring – and the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred during the seahorses’ peak breeding season. Now scientists are worried about how dispersents will affect future seahorse reproduction.
As the Gulf region continues to face a long road to recovery, our member groups remain hard at work leading scientific expeditions, cleanup efforts, and educational programs. Find out how the National Fish and Wildlife Federation joined forces with FedEx to rescue Gulf sea turtles! And please consider taking action yourself: