So Far, It’s Hard To Find Negative Effects from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

I have posted three separate articles (here, here, and here) about how the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has recovered remarkably well from the Deepwater Horizon disaster that dumped about 140,000 tons of oil into it. The bacteria that have been designed to remove oil from the ocean have done an amazing job at cleaning up the mess we made. Of course, just because the oil is mostly gone, that doesn’t mean there won’t be serious, long-term consequences to the gulf. Thus, there is still a lot of scientific evaluation to be done on the matter. As a result, some scientists are hard at work trying to discover what they can about the current ecological health of the GOM.

Marine scientists F. Joel Fodrie and Kenneth L. Heck Jr. decided to see if there were any consequences to the populations of important fish in the area where the oil was spilled. To do this, they tallied the numbers of juvenile fish retrieved from that area by marine research ships between mid July and late October for the years 2006-2010. Since the oil spill occurred in April of 2010, many of the juvenile fish retrieved in 2010 would have been hatched from eggs that were laid in the oil-polluted waters. In addition, once those eggs hatched, the fish larvae would be swimming around in oil-polluted waters. As a result, the scientists thought that there would be a noticeable drop in the number of juvenile fish retrieved in 2010. As they note:1

We hypothesized that the strength of juvenile cohorts spawned on the northern GOM continental shelf during May–September 2010 in the northern GOM would be negatively affected by egg/larval-oil interactions. Oiled seawater contains toxic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which, even after weathering, can result in genetic damage, physical deformities and altered developmental timing for fish eggs/larvae…Additionally, emulsified oil droplets could mechanically damage the feeding and breathing apparatus of relatively fragile larvae and further decrease individual fitness.

Was their hypothesis correct? Not even close.

The research vessels ended up retrieving sufficient numbers of juveniles from twenty different species that are important in the relevant area of the GOM. Of those species, twelve saw an increase in the number of juveniles in 2010 (as compared to 2006-2009), and the other eight saw no statistically significant change! In other words, of the twenty species analyzed, 12 ended up experiencing population growth after the oil spill, while the other eight saw no change in their population!

Now wait a minute. How could the oil spill result in more juvenile fish for twelve of the species studied? Actually, that’s not very hard to understand. Shortly after the spill began, commercial fishing was curtailed in the GOM. As a result, many species did not experience the decline that would have normally occurred due to commercial fishing. As a result, there were probably more adults laying more eggs. Unless the waters were toxic, those eggs would hatch into more larvae, which would develop into more juveniles. The results, then, are precisely what you would expect if the waters were not toxic to either the eggs or the larvae.

Here’s the important message: despite the predictions of many scientists, fish in the GOM have fared very well since the oil spill. Science News reported on the results of the study this way:2

The finding runs counter to expectations of huge losses, especially among fish born during or shortly after the April 20 well blowout.

Does this mean there are no long-term consequences to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Of course not. There haven’t been enough studies to determine that yet. However, the studies that have been done suggest just the opposite of what many “environmentalists” try to tell us. The earth is anything but fragile. Instead, it is an incredibly robust, well-designed system that has many built in safeguards that limit the long-term consequences of significant disasters. Of course, this is exactly what you would expect for an earth that was created by God!


1. F. Joel Fodrie and Kenneth L. Heck Jr., “Response of Coastal Fishes to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster,” PLoS ONE 6(7):e21609, 2011. (Available online)
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2. Janet Raloff, “Some Fish Thrived Despite Oil Spill,” Science News, August 13, 2011, p. 14.
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  1. NoOneKnows October 18, 2011 8:51 pm

    You said, “The earth is anything but fragile. Instead, it is an incredibly robust, well-designed system that has many built in safeguards that limit the long-term consequences of significant disasters. …!”

    Obviously you haven’t visited the water bodies in many of the over populated third world countries.

    • jlwile October 19, 2011 7:57 am

      NoOne, you are certainly correct that I have not visited the water bodies in overpopulated third-world countries. However, I think you misunderstand the statement you quoted. Notice the word limit in the quote. I did not say that these built-in safeguards eliminate the long-term consequences of significant disasters. I said that they limit them. A well-designed engine has built-in safeguards that limit the long-term consequences of engine wear and tear, but as that wear and tear continues to happen, the engine eventually needs maintenance. The same can be said of earth’s ecosystems. They are well-designed and have built-in safeguards that limit the long-term consequences of disasters, but if those disasters continue to happen, remediation becomes necessary.

      Had the Deepwater Horizon well not been plugged, there would have eventually been long-term consequences. The built-in safeguards that the Creator designed limited the damage, however, so once it was plugged, the Gulf recovered very quickly, contrary to the predictions of those who think the earth is a “fragile” system. Right now, the Creator’s built-in safeguards are limiting the damage of the pollution people and companies are mindlessly dumping into various waterways. If people and companies stop the pollution, remediation might be necessary. However, because of the Creator’s built-in safeguards, the amount of remediation will be less and the recovery will be better that what is expected by those who believe that the earth is a “fragile” system.