Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd join forces in Operation Toxic Gulf
On the 20th of April 2010, while the U.S. was celebrating Earth Day, and attending summits and festivals on sustainable living, Petroleum Giant BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, and began gushing crude oil into the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. After 87 days, the well was capped on the 15th of July, after an estimated 210 million gallons of oil had contaminated the gulf. BP then further aggravated the situation by pouring 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants into the Gulf to break up and sink the oil. The oil, now dispersed into the food chain, became up to 52 times more toxic.
Four years later, tar balls are still washing up on the Gulf’s beaches, and the dolphin pods known and beloved to the local residents and regular stream of tourists are dwindling. The effects of the Event Horizon disaster will be seen and felt for years, but no one knows exactly how long the spectre of human greed will haunt what was once a thriving oceanic ecosystem. The incident is considered the most significant manmade environmental disaster in the history of the United States.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance are proudly joining forces to launch Operation Toxic Gulf, a collaborative campaign between Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, meant to expose long-term environmental degradation in the Gulf of Mexico. The voyage of the research vessel Odyssey, a 93-foot, steel-hulled ketch, equipped with a state-of-the-art, cell-culture laboratory, is running June through August, collecting data on the environment as well as the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. With this data, the two organizations expect to have further proof of the extent of the disaster of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“When an event the magnitude of the 2010 Gulf Oil spill happens, many people look to the immediate post-event species mortality to judge the effect on wildlife. Our experience is that it is the chronic effects over time that pose the greatest threat to populations. Now that we have successfully established a baseline pollutant exposure data set for whales in the Gulf of Mexico, it is critical to collect subsequent data sets to monitor ongoing changes over time as the oil and dispersants make their way up the Gulf food chains,” said Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance. “The disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico remains a regrettable, but unique ‘teaching moment’ to increase science-based, public education about the long-term, harmful effects of current human activities on ocean and wetland ecosystems and how we can move forward and protect these precious places.”
The spill area hosted 8,332 species, and many threatened and endangered species were affected by the contamination of an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil (210 million gallons) that spewed from a sea-floor oil gusher into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Years later, the long term effects of the ecological fallout are still being discovered on sea creatures as large as the majestic sperm whales and as tiny as the plankton critical for healthy ecosystems.
Operation Toxic Gulf has several Sea Shepherd veteran crewmembers aboard who have spent Antarctic summers protecting whales from illegal whaling.
Operation Toxic Gulf is observing chronic effects of the oil crisis on whales and the ecosystem; collecting biological samples from whales and ocean food chains to determine a baseline and routes of exposure to petroleum products, chemical dispersants and metals; developing cell lines to determine impact of oil, chemical dispersants, mixed dispersant and oil, and metals on whale DNA. The campaign will largely focus on Gulf sperm whales and be able to put them in global toxicological context with previous Odyssey expedition data.
Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd intend to use this, their first strategic collaboration, to provide the data needed to understand the magnitude of these threats and to make the world vividly aware of the urgent need to end ocean pollution. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is best known for its protection of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, documented in Animal Planet’s popular television program Whale Wars. The Government of Japan uses a loophole in the moratorium on commercial whaling, claiming that their annual whale hunt is for scientific research. On March 31st, 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s JARPA II whaling program in the Southern Ocean was not, in fact, conducted for the purpose of scientific research, vindicating Sea Shepherd’s work. Ocean Alliance has been at the foreground of cutting edge research, boasting some of the most thorough and comprehensive scientific studies on whales, all done through non-lethal means.
Although these two organizations employ different approaches, Ocean Alliance and Sea Shepherd pursue the same goal: the conservation of ocean life, particularly in regard to whales. Ocean Alliance specializes in scientific research about, and advocacy for ocean life, while Sea Shepherd specializes in direct action against, and public exposure of the despoilers of ocean life.
Captain Alex Cornelissen, Global Executive Officer of Sea Shepherd Global, said, “Sea Shepherd has a long history as a law enforcement non-governmental organization, upholding international conservation law when governments don’t have the resources to represent public interest. We are proud to support Ocean Alliance’s continued work in the Gulf of Mexico to create transparency about the condition of the water and life in one of the most vital ecosystems in the United States.”