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Effects of Oil Spills on Marine Life

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Biology
Wordcount: 2714 words Published: 1st Jun 2018

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An oil spill is when any form of oil or petroleum is released into the environment, whether on land or in a marine environment. There are many ways that this can happen. One way is when crude oil is deposited into ocean waters illegally in order to avoid spending extra money to decompose the oil. Another way is when natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes cause oil containing rigs to be damaged and leak oil. Ship wrecks could also be a way to cause oil leakage. One other possible way to leak toxic oil into the environment is for operations to go wrong while drilling using oil rigs, which is what caused the biggest oil spill in US history on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Deepwater Horizon explosion was caused by an oil drilling rig known as the Deepwater Horizon. Being inspected for regulation and safety by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, and passing its standards for efficient and safe use for oil drilling, the Deepwater Horizon was used to operate and accomplish the drilling record for the deepest oil well in history. However, during drilling the well at Macondo, there was a blowout of water which caused an eruption causing the drilling rig to collapse and broke the piping that connected to the well. Much was speculated and it was found that the part which was used to drill needed to be replaced but instead of replacing it, they continued drilling. As a result of this devastating oil spill, biomes such as the marine water biome, which includes oceans, estuaries and coral reefs, were also affected. Being part of a biome, living things such as sea turtles and plankton were affected which in turn affected ecosystems and the food chains of many different species. This incident would have long lasting effects on many species which will take years if not decades to resolve and certain actions by government and communities should be taken to facilitate efforts in order to rejuvenate these habitats back into their original state.

Biome Affected Due to Oil Spill

The Gulf of Mexico is a huge habitat for many species of animals and provides many marine resources such as navigation, recreation, commercial fishers, oysters, and shells. It is also the home to most of the world’s whooping cranes. Due to the oil spill, all of these animals and whole biome itself was affected. The biome that the Gulf of Mexico falls under is the marine biome. The marine biome includes oceans, coral reefs, and estuaries primarily. Oceans provide the greatest diversity of species and have the greatest biomass. . The area bordering Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico has almost 90% of the marine life of the north part of the Gulf and is an estuary, which has a varying amount of salt concentration and creates a unique ecosystem. When toxic oil is introduced to this already situated habitat, it affects the animals and other living things that survive here. The Mississippi Delta is another estuary that dumps roughly 4.75 million gallons of water into the Gulf of Mexico and having little salt in its water, the oil that has spread

Coral reefs are made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals, which are colonies of tiny living animals containing few nutrients. They are found as barriers along continents and consist of both algae and tissues of animal polyp. Delicate coral reefs have been harmed by the crude oil being spread around as a result of the powerful Gulf currents. Coral is very abundant on the sea floor of the Gulf and it needs oxygen in order to survive. Unfortunately, there have been plumes of oil found at the site of the spills in the deeper parts of the Gulf which gets consumed by microbes, which removes the oxygen needed by the coral and since the Gulf waters mix very slowly, it would take a long amount of time to replete the area. In order to fix this problem, the US environment decided to allow shooting massive amounts of dispersing chemicals however, when mixed together with the oil, it causes the oil to sink thus allowing for the contamination of the reefs and animals with this toxic mixture. The currents of the Gulf have also spread this toxic oil to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Comparing the temperature of the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to waters of this sanctuary, it is relatively warmer in the sanctuary which allows for the reefs to heal quicker, although it will take decades if not longer for it to heal moderately since Coral is very delicate

Ecosystem and Food Chains Affected

Having affected the marine biome, the Gulf Oil Spill has affected many ecosystems and food chains. Having many different communities made up of populations of species working together and living in the same area makes up an ecosystem. This also establishes a food chain, with primary producers being on the bottom and carnivores and omnivores being on the top. Being part of the marine biome, the Gulf produces a lot of biomass such as plankton and biomass, which are primary producers. With all this toxic oil, the production of such plants has been affected. When enough primary producers are not present in an environment, all the organisms higher up in the food chain are also affected because they do not have any food to survive on. In the Gulf, organisms such as crickets, spiders, ants, and crickets are vital to its ecosystem, for playing roles in its environment such as being seed dispersers, soil aerators, and pollinators. Due to oil, dispersants, and cleanup activities, the population of insects were being affected, which in turn causes the population of frogs, fishes, and birds to be affected and then eventually the number of fishermen and birdwatchers are noticeably reduced, affecting the economy ultimately. Therefore, if bugs and insects suffer, then people will also suffer (Hopper-Bui).

Populations of Animals Affected

With all these changes in the ecosystems and biomes, many species of animals and organisms have been affected. One of those species is the Dolphin. The good thing about dolphins is that oil does not stick to their skin; however, if such oil vapors are inhaled, it would ultimately damage the animal’s airways and lungs and mucous membranes, which would lead to death. Along with the lung damages, a dolphin’s eyesight is also very prone to oil exposure. From toxic crude oil, comes an abundance of bacteria which can possibly impair a dolphin’s immune system and cause bacterial and fungal infections. Such hydrocarbons could possibly be transferred to young dolphins when they feed on their mothers.

Another species of organisms affected by this oil spill were the whooping cranes. These are an endangered species of cranes named for its whooping sound and are endangered due to habitat loss. When birds float on the water or dive into the water for fish, they get exposed to the oil by either having it on their feathers or ingest it while diving for fish. This in turn, causes them to lose their ability to fly or have severe problems in their digestive tract. These birds also feed on many other organisms such as frogs, small rodents, and small birds and other grain such as wheat and barley which were also affected by this oil spill. If producers/consumers lower on the food chain is affected by a certain environmental disaster, then organisms higher on the food chain are also affected.

You will be expected to write an essay on Gulf Oil Spill including the impact of the oil spill on the ecosystem and your view of what the long-term impact of the spill will be. You can include information on past oil spills if that helps you.

The biome(s) affected

“Gulf Facts and Threats.” Gulf of Mexico Foundation. Gulf of Mexico Foundation, 2009. Web. 25 Oct 2010. .

Martin, Dave. “Coral Reefs Tainted By Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.”nola.com. Associated Press, 17 May 2010. Web. 25 Oct 2010. .

Barrentine, Matt. “Ecosystem To Be Hit Hard By Oil Spill.”Fox10tv.com. N.p., 02 May 2010. Web. 25 Oct 2010. .

“The Marine Biome.” The University of California Museum of Paleontology. UCMP Web and Education Outreach Team, 2008. Web. 25 Oct 2010. .

The marine biome includes oceans, coral reefs, and estuaries. Oceans provide the greatest diversity of species and has the greatest biomass. Coral reefs are found as barriers along continents and consist of both algae and tissues of animal polyp. Estuaries are areas where freshwater streams or rivers merge with the ocean. Here, there is a varying amount of salt concentration and creates a unique ecosystem consisting of seaweeds, marsh grasses, oysters, crabs, and worms.

The ecosystems and food chains affected

Hopper-Bui, Lind. “Opinion: The oil’s stain on science.” Scientist Oil spill story. N.p., 05 Aug 2010. Web. 28 Oct 2010. .

The ants, crickets, flies, bees, dragon flies, and spiders I study are important components of the coastal food web. They function as soil aerators, seed dispersers, pollinators, and food sources in complex ecosystems of the Gulf.

Insects were not a primary concern when oil was gushing into the Gulf, but now they may be the best indicator of stressor effects on the coastal northern Gulf of Mexico. Those stressors include oil, dispersants, and cleanup activities. If insect populations survive, then frogs, fish, and birds will survive. If frogs, fish, and birds are there, the fishermen and the birdwatchers will be there. The Gulf’s coastal communities will survive. But if the bugs suffer, so too will the people of the Gulf Coast. (Hopper-Bui)

Describe one or two populations of animals impacted by the oil spill (your textbook may be helpful here as well). Are any of these animals native to Georgia?

Lowe, Joanne. “BP Oil Spill Animals.” Ranker. N.p., Oct 2010. Web. 28 Oct 2010. .



Unlike most animals, oil does not stick to a Dolphin’s skin because their skin is smooth, and hairless. That’s good. One less thing to worry about in the heap of other problems that BP has made for these highly intelligent mammals. The dolphins of the Gulf of Mexico will encounter problems such as inhaling oil and oil vapor (which they do very well). This will inevitably damage the animals’ airways, lungs, and mucous membranes. This, in turn, can lead to death. It’s the circle of life, BP style, and the dolphins are panicking their way in circles to death. Oh yeah, just so you know, they can increase their exposure to oil harm if they’re stressed or panicking. Wonderful.

A dolphin’s eyesight is also sensitive to oil exposure.

It is also possible that oil pollution impairs a dolphin’s immune system and causes secondary bacterial and fungal infections.

The transfer of petroleum hydrocarbons through the mothers milk to suckling young is another way oil affects dolphins and may affect not only current dolphin populations, but future generations.


Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating fish and squid. They might consume oil-affected food or may even starve due to the lack of available food given that in the gulf area they are pretty much at the top of the food chain.

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Manatees may be affected by inhaling volatile hydrocarbons while they are breathing on the surface, and it is very likely that exposure to petroleum will irritate sensitive mucous membranes and eyes. Those adorable little eyes. The young are the most at risk (read: manatee pups). Nursing pups may be injured due to ingestion of oil from contaminated teats. There may be long-term chronic effects as a result of migration through oil-contaminated waters, and there is a substantial possibility of consuming contaminated plant material and other incidental organisms that may affect GENERATIONS of manatees (much like the dolphins).


Large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as ‘sea cows’. They’re well-known for their friendly nature and paddle-like flippers.

Hair color is brownish gray and they have thick, wrinkled skin, often with coarse hair, or “whiskers.” This adorable big guy spends half the day sleeping.

Are capable of understanding discriminatory tasks and show signs of complex thought associated with learning and advanced long-term memory.

Inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as other regions with warmer water. Diet includes mangrove leaves, turtle grass, and types of algae, all of which will be filled/covered with a layer of oil due to this last spill.



Given the amount of time whale sharks spend in, and at the surface of the water, there is potential harm or possible death of these mammals from direct exposure to the oil as well as contamination, typically from oiling or clogging of their gills, and consumption of oil-contaminated preys. Most of these animals spend a large percentage of their time filter feeding, so the impact of the spill will be tremendous. 

The process being used to ‘break up’ the oil will significantly increase the potential for exposure of sharks throughout the water.


Although it is unclear whether or not sharks have the ability to detect the oil in the water, we can only hope that they will avoid these affected areas.

Whale sharks are considered ‘vulnerable’ species because of their slow growth rate, late age maturity and low number of off springs. The oil spill will definitely impact the wildlife of Whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. If the BP oil spill causes the shark population to decline, there will be a slow recovery within the shark colony.


-Aeriel surveys will note whether these animals are traversing in or near these waters and satellite telemetry will actively detect if whale sharks are swimming within range of the spill or if they are affected at all.



Birds can be exposed to oil as they float on the water or dive for fish through oil-slicked water. Oiled birds can lose the ability to fly and can ingest the oil while preening.

This bird feeds on various crustaceans, mollusks, fish, berries, small reptiles and aquatic plants. Potential foods of breeding birds in summer include frogs, small rodents, smaller birds, fish, aquatic insects, crayfish, clams, snails, aquatic tubers and, berries. Waste grain, including wheat and barley, is an important food for migratory birds such as the whooping crane. All affected (INfected) by this oil spill.

These devastating outcomes give the creatures nothing to whoop about — if they CAN even whoop anymore without oil spouting out their throats or choking them them to death. 


The tallest North American bird, the Whooping Crane is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound and call. 

The whooping crane is endangered mainly as a result of habitat loss. Breeding populations winter along the Gulf coast of Texas, as well as other areas with lakes. They nest on the ground, usually on a raised area in a marsh. Female is more likely to directly tend to the young.


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