Science

April 18, 2012

Deformities in Gulf Seafood Found After BP Oil Spill

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Al Jazeera just published a thoroughly disturbing report on the deformed fish and shellfish that are being pulled from the Gulf in the wake of the BP oil spill. Shrimp without eyes or even eye sockets, snapper with large pink growths, undersized and misshapen crabs–the fishermen in the Gulf that Al Jazeera talked to have never seen anything like it.

An excerpt from the report:

Darla Rooks, a lifelong fisherperson from Port Sulfur, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera she is finding crabs “with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within … they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they’ve been dead for a week”.

Rooks is also finding eyeless shrimp, shrimp with abnormal growths, female shrimp with their babies still attached to them, and shrimp with oiled gills.

“We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills.”

It’s not incredibly surprising to see deformities in the wake of the oil spill–we knew (and know) very little about dispersants in general and about Corexit, the dispersant used by BP, in particular. A nonprofit environmental law firm called Earthjustice actually had to sue to obtain the precise formula of the material, and even then, that group claims that there is nowhere near enough data to know what effects the dispersant will have on the Gulf. According to Earthjustice’s review, at least 13 of the 57 chemicals in Corexit are suspected or known to be toxic to aquatic life. Phosphorus, for example, may have helped microbes readily break down the oil, but phosphorus also happens to be toxic to fish. What’s not clear is what’s actually causing these deformities–is it the oil, the dispersant, or both?

We do know, disturbingly, that the oil entered the food chain. That may be part of the problem here–shrimp and crabs are bottom-feeders, and snapper, according to Wikipedia, also commonly feast on crustaceans like sea lice and crabs (though not shrimp).

Check out Al Jazeera for more.

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