BP oil spill led to baby dolphin deaths and diseases along the Gulf Coast. Truth Wire

Oil Spills Can Disrupt Entire Aquatic Food Web, New Study Shows

From dead fish to beaches covered in sludge, the immediate damage from an oil spill is easy to see.

But a new study, published this week in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (AECT), found that the damage caused by these spills are much wider in scope and can indirectly disrupt the entire aquatic food web.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killed thousands of marine mammals and contaminated their habitats.

But researchers in the AECT study found that the mass mortalities also led to a dramatic spike in forage fish populations such as menhaden in the years after the blowout.

Menhaden are tiny fish that are prey to a wide range of marine predators such as larger fish, birds and cetaceans such as fin whales and dolphins. With many of their predators gone, these tiny fish were able to quickly multiply.

According to the study, "these releases from predation led to an increase of Gulf menhaden biomass in 2011 to 2.4 million t, or more than twice the average biomass of 1.1 million t for the decade prior to 2010."

"Our discovery suggests that the structure of food webs change after an oil spill, which may be much more damaging to fish and other aquatic fauna than the direct impacts of the spilled oil itself," explained lead researcher Jeffrey Short.

The new analysis "underscores the need to study not just those species obviously affected, but also the entire food web, during oil spill assessments," a press release for the study states.

"While the direct effects of oil spills on ecosystems have been well documented, this new study following the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2011 provides the first indication that oil spills can alter the nature of entire aquatic food webs," said Peter S. Ross, editor-in-chief of AECT.

Show Comments ()

Trump Administration Offers 77 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to Oil Industry

The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into every ocean in the country.

Keep reading... Show less
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. Mitchell Resnick

Pruitt to Restrict Use of Scientific Data in EPA Policymaking

In the coming weeks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a proposal that would limit the type of scientific studies and data the agency can use in crafting public health and environmental regulations.

The planned policy shift, first reported by E&E News, would require the EPA to only use scientific findings whose data and methodologies are made public and can be replicated.

Keep reading... Show less
Mity / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

20% of U.S. Diets Responsible for Almost Half of Country’s Food-Related Emissions, Study Finds

If you've been deliberating about going vegetarian, a study published Tuesday in Environmental Letters might give you the final push.

Keep reading... Show less
Sea Shepherd small boat assists the Liberian Coast Guard to chase down the F/V Hai Lung. Sea Shepherd

Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd

A notorious Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish poaching vessel, famous for plundering the Antarctic, was arrested on March 13 in waters belonging to the West African state of Liberia by the Liberian Coast Guard, with assistance from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The F/V Hai Lung, known to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) by its previous name "Kily," was transiting through Liberian waters when it was boarded and inspected by a Liberian Coast Guard team working alongside Sea Shepherd crew on board Sea Shepherd's patrol vessel M/Y Sam Simon.

Keep reading... Show less

7 Must-See Films at the 42nd Cleveland International Film Fest

It's that time, again!

EcoWatch is proud to be a media partner of the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF), now celebrating its 42nd year. This year, EcoWatch is honored to be sponsoring Anote's Ark. This documentary spotlights Kiribati, a small remote island facing devastating effects due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: 'We have approved Bayer's plans to take over Monsanto because the parties' remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full.' EU Commission Twitter

EU Approves Controversial Bayer-Monsanto Merger

The European Union approved Bayer's takeover of Monsanto, a major hurdle in the $66 billion merger that would create the world's largest integrated seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The European Commission said the German chemical-maker's takeover of the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant is "conditional on an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties' overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture."

Keep reading... Show less
Todd Porter & Diane Cu

How Much Daily Activity You Need to Burn off 9 Healthy (But High-Calorie) Foods

By Luke Doyle

A healthy lifestyle is fueled by nutrient-rich foods that give your body the energy it needs. But some of these foods come with high calorie counts and the "healthy" label doesn't mean it's okay to consume unlimited amounts of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Marine debris laden beach in Hawaii. NOAA Marine Debris Program / Flickr

Ocean Plastic Projected to Triple Within Seven Years

If we don't act now, plastic pollution in the world's oceans is projected to increase three-fold within seven years, according to a startling new report.

The Future of the Sea report, released Wednesday for the UK government, found that human beings across the globe produce more than 300 million metric tons of plastic per year. Unfortunately, a lot of that material ends up in our waters, with the total amount of plastic debris in the sea predicted to increase from 50 million metric tons in 2015 to 150 million metric tons by 2025.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!