DeepWater Horizon Spill Threatens 8 National Parks

Today will be Day 75 of DeepWater Horizon Oil Spill. Even though the cap which is placed on top to capture oil is working day and night, the spill is still spewing oil into the Ocean. This week there was also the added pressure of Hurricane Alex stirring up things in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft “more oil than what would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool slipped by the cap on BP’s ruptured undersea well due to bad weather on Friday (1st of July)”. Bad weather has also resulted in the skimmers returning to the shores to sit out the wind in the high seas.

Newly retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced Friday that since June, the skimming capability in the Gulf has increased more than fivefold — from approximately 100 large skimmers to 550 skimming vessels of various sizes working to collect oil in all parts of the region now. To date, 28.2 million gallons of an oil-water mix has been skimmed from the Gulf’s surface.

Gulf of Mexico with its vast shore line and ocean wealth is also home to many national parks and 8 of them are in places which can be affected by the oil spill adversely. The reefs and marine ecology are in the impact zone and the effect of the Oil spill and the dispersant used will not be known for a long time.

These are the eight national parks that the U.S. National Park Service is monitoring for signs of damage from the Gulf oil spill:

1. Dry Tortugas National Park

Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and its military past.

Coral reefs ring Fort Jefferson, a military fortress abandoned in 1907, now part of Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Seven islands make up the Dry Tortugas, known for rich bird and marine life.
Dry Tortugas National Park has suffered no impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill thus far. The park remains open for visitation and all activities continue as scheduled. Nonetheless, the National Park Service continues to spend considerable time and effort in preparation for possible effects.

2. Big Cypress National Reserve

The freshwaters of the Big Cypress Swamp, essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades, support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Protecting over 720,000 acres of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther. In addition to panthers and alligators, the park’s swampy environment is also home to bobcats, black bears, herons, and egrets.

Though Big Cypress National Preserve is mostly inland, there are some coastal resources within the Preserve along the southern boundary. This estuary zone is protected by the Ten Thousand Islands of Everglades National Park.

At this time no closures have occurred in the Preserve in response to the oil spill. However, management personnel at the preserve are monitoring the situation in the Gulf closely.

3. The Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, boasts rare and endangered species. It has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance, significant to all people of the world.

The south Florida national parks continue to carefully monitor response efforts to the oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Though not an immediate threat, the ongoing movement and spread of oil in the region has the potential to impact the south Florida coast.

4. Gulf Islands National Seashore

One of the Parks affected by the oil Spill already – Birds fly over Park Service facility on Santa Rosa Island, parts of which fall within Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore (file photo). Oil from the Gulf spill has reached the national seashore, including parts of Santa Rosa Island. The refuge remains open, but visitors can see offshore oil booms intended to keep the oil at bay.

Most of the oil that ends up on beaches arrives in coagulated clumps known as tarballs and moose patties, Park Service officials say. If these objects are spotted on the beach, a cleanup crew is dispatched to shovel them up.
PARKWIDE: Because oil can appear on park beaches at any given time, there is a National Park Service Public Health Advisory in effect until further notice parkwide.

Use caution, good judgment and stay informed:

• If you see or smell oil in the water or on the beach, avoid contact with water and report it to the nearest lifeguard or park ranger.
• Avoid direct skin contact with oil, oil-contaminated water, and tar balls.
• If you get oil or tar balls on your skin, wash with soap and water.
• If you get oil on clothing, launder as usual.
• Prevent pets from entering oil-contaminated areas.
• Do not fish in oil affected waters.
• Do not handle dead or dying fish, or wildlife.
• Leave the area if you experience difficulty breathing or any other symptoms. If needed, contact your doctor.

5. Padre island Seashore

Located along the south Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world. Here, you can enjoy 70 miles of sandy beaches.

As of now no oil has reached its shores and none is projected to reach its shores unless some major change occurs in status quo. It remains open starting yesterday after a short close down for Hurricane Alex. Check the website for any new info.

6. De Soto National Memorial

Gulf Coast waters are visible from this lookout point in Florida’s De Soto National Memorial, named for Hernando De Soto, the Spanish conquistador who explored much of the state in the early 1500s.The park, a popular fishing and kayaking spot, remains open and still appears to be unaffected by the Gulf oil spill.

Roughly 80 percent of the park is mangrove swamps, with the rest consisting of pine flatlands and mixed hardwood forests. Serving as nurseries for much of the fish in the Gulf, mangroves are crucial to the region’s ecological future—and to the fishing industry.

De Soto National Memorial has special living history presentations at specific times of the year. The Spanish encampment features daily presentations (weather permitting) from mid-December to the last weekend in April. The Last day of the living history encampment also includes a special reenactment of De Soto’s landing in 1539.

7. Jean LaFitte Historical national Park and Preserve
The six sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve represent a treasure trove of south Louisiana’s historical and cultural riches. People from nearly every country, ethnic group, language, and religion have come to the lower Mississippi River delta and left traces of their passing.

None of Jean Lafitte’s six sites are directly in the path of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The park’s Barataria Preserve is the most vulnerable site since it is linked to the Gulf of Mexico via waterways.

No oil from the spill has been observed in the preserve. Oil has fouled the shoreline of the Barataria Waterway about 12 miles south of the preserve boundary and has penetrated marshes on the north edge of Barataria Bay, about 15 miles south of the preserve. Booms are in place and cleanup is underway. Park staff continues to monitor the situation and work with experts to prepare defensive actions.
The park is home to songbirds, as well as swamp rabbits, mink, coyotes, and deer. So far, no animals that live in U.S. national parks have been affected by the Gulf oil spill, the Park Service’s Amzelmo said—but that could change.

8. Biscayne National Park
Within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. Here too is evidence of 10,000 years of human history, from pirates and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents. Outdoors enthusiasts can boat, snorkel, camp, watch wildlife…or simply relax in a rocking chair gazing out over the bay.
Biscayne National Park has suffered no impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill thus far. The park remains open for visitation and all activities continue as scheduled. Nonetheless, the National Park Service continues to spend considerable time and effort in preparation for possible effects.

National parks in the Gulf area are home to many amazing animals, habitats, and cultural resources. Here are just a few that could be affected by the oil spill:

  • Sea-grass beds are important nursery habitat for sea turtles, young fish, crabs, shrimp, and many other crustaceans. They also provide an important food source for manatees. Oil will kill sea-grasses on contact and this community is slow to recover.
  • Salt marshes, which occur in back bays, provide a buffer that protects the mainland during storm events. They also offer foraging sites for all kinds of birds. If oil kills these plants in the marsh, the soil will destabilize and erode.
  • Mangroves are similar to salt marshes in that they provide a buffer between the sea and the mainland, as well as providing wildlife habitat.
  • Shipwrecks, archeological sites, Civil War defenses, historic structures, and other cultural resources tell the stories of past inhabitants and key moments in our nations past. Damage from oil and cleanup operations is a concern for these treasures.

The ecosystems and wildlife represented in the parks could provide the biological and genetic diversity needed when the spill is over – they will be the well-springs of resurgence in wildlife populations.

In reality from experience what is known is that the real effects of an oil spill cannot be fathomed by looking at statistics of oil being spilled and wild life showing up oil covered on the shores etc…

Exxon-Valdez results are the ones we have at hand as reference and you can read it HERE makes for really interesting reading…

Note – Clicking on the name of the parks will take you to the respective parks pages on the web and will provide you with the latest update as to the effects of the oil spill if any.

Read this article in Newsweek to see the projected effect on underwater organisms and habitat.

Source for this article Data and Pictures:

National Geographic

National Parks Service

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