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Earth Talk Tuesday: Is the Gulf Really Back to Normal?



DiálogoEcológico
De los Redactores de E/La Revista Ecológica

Querido DiálogoEcológico: He visto bastantes anuncios celebratorios en televisión, muchos patrocinados por British Petroleum (BP), instándome a ir de vacaciones en el Golfo de México. ¿Pero han vuelto las cosas realmente “a la normalidad?”                      -- Paul Shea, Dublín, OH

El Golfo de México puede estar abierto para el comercio y ansioso de atraer turistas, pero todavía no está claro si los ecosistemas marinos y costeros son sanos dos años después de la explosión del aparejo de perforación de BP a 40 millas de la costa de Luisiana, dejando escapar al final 205,8 millones de galones de petróleo en la columna de agua.

Cinco meses después del desastre de abril de 2010 la administración de Obama publicó un plan detallado de recuperación, invocando una inversión de hasta $21 mil millones—cuya mayor parte vendría de las penas civiles de BP—para la limpieza y restauración a largo plazo del ecosistema. Con mucho de este trabajo ya bien en marcha—diseñado para complementar los poderes reconstituyentes de la Naturaleza—algunos observadores se pronuncian contentos con los resultados hasta este momento.

"La recuperación natural es mucho más grande que lo que se esperaba cuando sucedió la tragedia," dice James Morris, un biólogo con la Universidad de Carolina del Sur y miembro del comité del Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones encargado por el Congreso de evaluar los efectos del derrame en el ecosistema del Golfo. "Los temores de la mayoría de las personas—que habría un desplome catastrófico del ecosistema en el Golfo—nunca se realizó".

"Las pesquerías se han recuperado en forma abismante," reportea Morris. "Una de las conclusiones interesantes fue que después de la fuga de petróleo, las poblaciones de pez cebo se desplomaron, y las poblaciones de peces de rapiña explotaron. La razón fue que no había presión pesquera en los principales animales de rapiña porque la gente dejó de pescar después del derrame. De esta manera las poblaciones de peces de rapiña se expandieron enormemente, y diezmaron su presa habitual".

No todos comparten una visión tan color de rosa. El grupo ambiental internacional Greenpeace indica: "A través de la cadena alimenticia, las señales de alerta se están acumulando. Los delfines están enfermos y a menudo agonizantes. Peces importante de forraje están plagados de daños en las agallas y en su desarrollo. Especies de agua profunda como el pargo han sido afectadas con lesiones y sus arrecifes están perdiendo biodiversidad. Las comunidades costeras luchan con cambios en las pesquerías que constituyen su sustento. Los arrecifes de ostras fuertemente afectados no se recuperan y peces de deporte como la trucha moteada han desaparecido de algunos de sus lugares tradicionales".

Sin embargo otros observadores afirman que dos años no son suficiente tiempo como para decir si los ecosistemas de la región serán dañados severamente a largo plazo. "Realmente no sabemos los efectos que tuvo el derrame de la plataforma Deepwater Horizon en aguas profundas porque sabemos poco acerca de los procesos de los ecosistemas allí," reportea Gary Cherr, director del Laboratorio Marino Bodega de la UC Davis y autor principal de un papel recientemente publicado en la revista Bioscience. Cherr y su equipo de investigadores, inclusive prominentes oceanógrafos, ecotoxicologistas, y ecólogos, concluyen que los científicos necesitan más tiempo para estudiar cómo contener el daño de tales accidentes, especialmente dada la tendencia de buscar nuevas fuentes de petróleo en regiones costa afuera alrededor de EEUU y ultramar.

"El mar profundo no es una zona muerta. No es un desierto. Hay mucha vida allí," agrega Cherr. "Desafortunadamente hasta que sucede un desastre  no tratamos de recolectar los impactos. Y eso es difícil de hacer cuando se carece de un entendimiento completo—o aún parcial—del ecosistema".


EarthTalk® (DiálogoEcológico) es escrito y editado por Roddy Scheer y Doug Moss y es una marca registrada de E - La Revista Ecológica. (www.emagazine.com). Traducción española de Patrice Greanville. Sírvase enviar sus preguntas a: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Suscripción: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Pida un número gratis: www.emagazine.com/trial.



EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve seen a lot of warm and fuzzy TV ads, some sponsored by BP Oil, urging me to vacation in the Gulf of Mexico. But are things really “back to normal?”    -- Paul Shea, Dublin, OH
The Gulf of Mexico may be open for business and eager to attract tourists, but it’s still unclear whether or not marine and coastal ecosystems there are healthy two years after BP’s offshore drilling rig exploded 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, eventually releasing 205.8 million gallons of oil into the water column.

Five months after the April 2010 disaster the Obama administration released a detailed recovery plan, calling for spending up to $21 billion—most which would come from BP’s civil penalties—on clean-up and long-term ecosystem restoration. With much of this work—designed to complement the restorative powers of Mother Nature—well underway, some observers are pleased with the results so far.

“The natural recovery is far greater than what anybody hoped when it happened,” says James Morris, a University of South Carolina biologist and a member of the National Research Council committee tasked by Congress to assess the effects of the spill on the Gulf's ecosystem. “The fears of most people—that there would be a catastrophic collapse of the ecosystem in the Gulf—never materialized.”

The fisheries have come back like gangbusters,” Morris reports. “One of the interesting findings was that after the oil spill, bait fish populations collapsed, and predator populations boomed. The reason was that there was no fishing pressure on the top predators because people stopped fishing after the spill. So the predator fish populations rebounded, and they grazed down their prey.”

Not everyone shares such a rosy view. The international environmental group Greenpeace reports: “Throughout the food chain, warning signs are accumulating. Dolphins are sick and dying. Important forage fish are plagued with gill and developmental damage. Deepwater species like snapper have been stricken with lesions and their reefs are losing biodiversity. Coastal communities are struggling with changes to the fisheries they rely upon. Hard-hit oyster reefs aren’t coming back and sport fish like speckled trout have disappeared from some of their traditional haunts.”

Still other observers argue that two years is not enough time to tell whether the region’s ecosystems will be severely damaged long term. “We really don’t know the effects the Deepwater Horizon spill had in the deep sea because we know little about the ecosystem processes there,” reports Gary Cherr, director of UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory and a lead author on a recently released paper published in the journal Bioscience. Cherr and his fellow researchers, including leading oceanographers, ecotoxicologists, and ecologists, conclude that scientists need more time to study how to contain damage from such accidents, especially given the trend to seek new sources of oil in off-shore regions around the U.S. and beyond.

“The deep sea is not a dead zone. It’s not a desert. There’s a lot of life down there,” adds Cherr. “Unfortunately it’s not until a disaster happens that we try to piece together the impacts. That’s difficult to do when you don’t have a complete—or even partial—understanding of the ecosystem.”

CONTACTS: James Morris, ww2.biol.sc.edu/~morris; Greenpeace, www.greenpeace.org; Bioscience paper, www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/resources/Peterson.pdf.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine ( www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

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