Continuing Damage Found From BP Spill

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A study of dolphins living near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig shows that marine mammals have serious health problems from the oil spill, and a second study links the disaster to the death of once-vibrant Gulf coral reefs.
     In a report last week that calls dolphin strandings in the Northern Gulf "unprecedented," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said many dolphins who live near the site of the Deepwater Horizon are underweight, anemic and suffer from liver and kidney disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function, the study found.
     The NOAA began the study in 2011 to chart the effects of the BP oil spill.
     According to NOAA data, 675 dolphins have been stranded since February 2010 - two months before the oil spill.
     The report calls the strandings "significantly higher than normal," and says that under normal circumstances roughly 74 dolphins strand a year in the Northern Gulf.
     In Louisiana alone, the average annual number of dolphin strandings from 2002-2009 was just 20.
     Yet "2011 had 159 strandings in Louisiana, almost 8 times the 2002-2009 historical average," according to the report.
     "These increased strandings are part of an Unusual Mortality Event for the entire northern Gulf which includes all dolphin and whale strandings between the Panhandle of Florida and the Louisiana/Texas border," the NOAA report states. "Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana stranding rates have been higher than historic levels since the spill occurred and continue to be high in 2012."
     While most stranded dolphins have been found dead, scientists have found and studied 32 live dolphins living in Barataria Bay, which is a few miles from the site where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20, 2010, killing 11 and sending nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
     The report states that the "dolphins' symptoms are consistent with those seen in other mammals exposed to oil, but the study is not yet complete. Assessment efforts continue in Barataria Bay and in other coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. A final report of study results for the Barataria Bay dolphins is expected in the next six months. Final results for other areas will take longer, because new samples are still being collected."
     And though BP and the Coast Guard declared Barataria Bay cleaned of oil, photos taken in March and published in the Times-Picayune show new sheens of Macondo well oil in the wetlands.
     '"These are places where we absolutely need long-term monitoring,'" Olivia Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told the Times-Picayune in an email describing the Barataria Bay photos.
     Watkins told the paper that warm weather is causing oil to bubble up in the areas that had been deemed cleaned.
     When cleanup efforts stopped last fall, the Coast Guard promised to act promptly to any new oil sightings. So far neither the Coast Guard nor BP has responded to the new oil.
     A second study charting the "unprecedented" effects of the oil spill focused on coral colonies. The study was funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
     The study focuses on coral colonies less than a mile southwest of the Macondo well.
     Scientists found the "colonies presented widespread signs of stress, including varying degrees of tissue loss, sclerite enlargement, excess mucous production, bleached commensal ophiuroids, and covering by brown flocculent material (floc)."
     The report states that "analysis of hopanoid petroleum biomarkers isolated from the floc provides strong evidence that this material contained oil from the Macondo well. The presence of recently damaged and deceased corals beneath the path of a previously documented plume emanating from the Macondo well provides compelling evidence that the oil impacted deep-water ecosystems. Our findings underscore the unprecedented nature of the spill in terms of its magnitude, release at depth, and impact to deep-water ecosystems."
     The report states that while this particular coral colony appears to be the only one of its kind affected by the spill so far, sea life is slow-moving and effects of the oil on other colonies may still be unseen.
     "Life in deep-water coral ecosystems is known to operate at a slow pace," the report states. "Consequently it is too early to fully evaluate the footprint and long-term effects of acute and subacute exposure to potential waterborne contaminants resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."
     Also last week, a resident of Waveland, Miss., a coastal community not far from the Deepwater Horizon site, told Courthouse News he's fed up with media denial of the continuing damage from the oil spill.
     Charles Taylor said he's sent photos of beached, oily sea turtles to local TV but the station is "reporting hardly anything about what is really going on" along the Gulf beaches, and denied receiving his photos.
     Charles Taylor, who told Courthouse News a year ago that oily sea turtles washing ashore were rotting on the beach, said last week that he sent a local news station an email with photos of four sea turtles he found in a single day. Taylor said the station claimed not to have received them, or misplaced them, Taylor said, so he sent them a letter.
     "I am resending you these pictures again of the dead turtles in Waveland that you still claim to know nothing about," the letter states.
     "The first was found in Waveland, just west of the Veterans Memorial Pier. It is the one that is upside down and shows visible signs of internal bleeding and hemorrhaging, which is consistent with the turtle deaths immediately following the BP oil spill.
     "The second, third and fourth turtles were all found within 100 yards of each other just west of the Clermont Harbor Pier near the Silver Slipper Casino.
     "I have no way of proving that these turtles were killed by BP's oil or dispersant mixtures, but it seems funny that any news we see and try to report that might cast a bad light on BP simply does not get reported. It has gone on for a long time. About as long as those BP propaganda commercials you run on your station trying to tell us that everything is OK on the Coast, when in fact, the opposite is true. You must remember that in the near future, that BP money will run out and you will be left with nothing but your viewing audience to support you."
     Taylor told Courthouse News a year ago that he had to quit his job because he was sick with symptoms he attributed to the oil spill.
     Congress last week passed a stopgap 3-month transportation bill that does not include a provision to send 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill to Gulf States.
     The provision, packaged as the Restore Act, would have directed money recovered in fines to help restore the Gulf Coast. Without the provision, the money will go into the federal oil spill trust fund, to be used on anything oil spill-related, but not necessarily connected with the Gulf Coast.
     The basic fine BP will face under the Clean Water Act is $1,100 per barrel of oil. If the court finds gross negligence, however, that penalty could be as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil, or $21 billion, using the government's estimate of 4.9 million spilled barrels.