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Bird Loss in BP Gulf Oil Spill

February 6, 2011

Audubon Society reports:

An estimate will also be calculated for the Deepwater Horizon spill, as it is for all oil spills, by scientists from the federal and state governments, as well as scientists from universities and nongovernmental organizations. This is part of a process is called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment – the official way to assess the damage to the natural resources, the birds, fish, marine species, marsh, beaches, waters, from a human-caused disaster. It is called an assessment because the final number reached, the impact, will be assessed against, or charged to, BP – a fine for how much damage they caused to the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

To calculate the estimated loss, scientists will try to understand what proportion of the actual death toll the collected birds represent. For the Exxon Valdez spill, they estimated that the collected dead birds represented somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of the actual number of birds killed. If those numbers held true for the Deepwater Horizon, the estimate would be somewhere between 7,000 and 23,000 birds killed.

But the percentage of birds collected will not be the same, and it may be more difficult to calculate accurately for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Most of the birds that were collected dead were collected on land – a few tiny islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the effort of searching for birds was focused on the breeding colonies because the majority of birds that could be captured alive or collected dead would be found on those islands. Thus, the total area of oiled islands is a tiny fraction of the total area of Gulf of Mexico waters into which oiled birds may have disappeared.

In many of our nation’s notable spills, the oil has spilled close to shore. Scientists can drop a number of chicken carcasses into water the same distance from shore, then count the ones that reach shore to estimate how many birds that died in the water might have reached land. My guess is that a chicken carcass dropped 50 miles away from the Gulf Coast shoreline would never reach land.

For a more complete description of the long-term, subtle effects that concern us, see our recent report, “Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort.”

Entire report, click here

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