NEW ORLEANS (CN) - On the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, three environmental groups sued BP for Endangered Species Act violations in Federal Court. The groups ask for an endowment to create sanctuaries for endangered whales and birds, and to protect sea turtles and manatees.
Defenders of Wildlife, Gulf Restoration Network and the Save the Manatee Club say the worst oil spill in U.S. history and the subsequent cleanup "are reasonably certain to cause the take of numerous endangered and threatened species, including sea turtles, sperm whales, manatees, and piping plovers, in violation of the ESA."
The groups say, "Steps can be taken to directly and indirectly mitigate the impact of the oil spill on these species to facilitate their continued survival and recovery in the region." But they add that such steps must be taken now.
Those steps include, but are not limited to, rehabilitation of wildlife, removal of oil contamination from marine and coastal ecosystems, restoration of the ecosystems, establishment of a permanent endowment dedicated to the long-term restoration, maintenance and scientific research of Gulf species and ecosystems, and establishment of national marine sanctuaries, wildlife refuges and other protected areas.
The groups say that while these immediate steps are necessary, "This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and ensuring the long-term survival and recovery of endangered and threatened species in the Gulf region in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster will require these and many other steps."
They add, "There are at least 27 animal species listed as endangered or threatened that utilize habitat in the Gulf. This list includes reptiles, birds, fish, and marine and land mammals."
Under the Endangered Species Act, "a species is listed as 'endangered' when it is 'in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,'" and "listed as 'threatened' when it is 'likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a specific portion of its range.'"
Once a species is listed, it is entitled to a number of protections, including prohibition of harm and harassment and affirmative duties to promote the species' conservation and recovery.
"The Flow Rate Technical Group, a group of scientists from federal agencies and academic institutions, estimate that the Deepwater Horizon well spilled 4.1 million barrels, or 172.2 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was capped," the complaint states. "The cumulative oil-slick footprint from the Deepwater Horizon blowout covered thousands of square miles in the Gulf."
At least 650 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline have been affected by oil: more than 380 miles in Louisiana, 110 miles in Mississippi, 75 miles in Alabama and 90 miles in Florida.
More than 50 percent of the oil spilled remains in the Gulf ecosystem, much of it in coastal and marine sediments, the groups say, citing figures from Florida State University oceanographer Ian McDonald, who testified to the President's National Oil Spill Commission on Sept. 27.