AUSTRALIA CAN LEARN plenty from the ongoing British Petroleum (BP) oil-spill disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a leading marine biologist.
The much-publicised environmental catastrophe, which began which offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded kilometres offshore from Louisiana, has caused widespread damage to the aquatic ecosystem, affecting as many as 400 species of sea life. At the time of publication, an internal BP document estimated crude oil was spewing from the remains of the rig at a rate of 100,000 barrels – or 15,140,000-litres – a day.
However large the damage to the environment and however long the clean-up job takes, Modern Fishing’s marine biologist Dr Julian Pepperell believes Australian officials should take note should such a disaster ever occur in Australian waters.
“If every cloud has a silver lining, we can learn a great deal from what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico and relate it to our own conditions, should the situation ever arise,” Dr Pepperell told Modern Fishing.
“The waters of the Gulf are more equivalent to north-east and north-west Australian aquatic ecosystems – it’s a closer comparison than the Exxon Valdez spill which took place in Alaska – so any findings made by scientists as this crisis unfolds can be directly related to Australian conditions.”
Dr Pepperell expressed concern for US fishermen affected by the spill.
“There are long-lasting effects for coastal fishers as a result of this incident. As a comparison there’s still evidence of oil in the marshes off the Persian Gulf, which was released in the Gulf War in 1991,” he said.
“One of the predictions of the damage this situation will cause is the loss of recruitment – particularly in larval fish – that could cause a massive gap in the year class of fish.
“This disaster will have a massive effect on recreational fishing in the long-term, especially with regards to guiding in the area. It could take decades for the environment to totally recover.”
- BP has established a claims fund of $US20b ($A23b) to pay for lost income for those impacted by the oil spill. Claimants include fishermen and charter guides – and even a New Orleans strip club which claims the spill has affected business as fishermen who normally frequent the club can’t afford to spend money there.
- The oil spill affects a region of the United States that produces 40 per cent of the country’s seafood. Most affected is the prawn (shrimp) industry, with predictions the spill could lead to a nation-wide shortage.
- American environmental lawyer and radio host Mike Papantonio claims an acoustic switch, used compulsorily in many countries around the world, would have prevented the oil explosion and the ensuing environmental damage. He claims BP didn’t want to pay $500,000 to purchase the safety device.
By NICHOLAS JANZEN