The deep-sea ecosystem community is comprised of a large diversity of aquatic flora and fauna adapted to the ocean water characteristics like high saline concentration, clear water allowing high light penetration, and pollution from autochthonous and allochthonous sources among other challenges. The ecosystem comprises coastal wetlands formed by sandy pebble shores, lagoons, estuarine lakes, dune swamps, mudflats, coastal floodplains and lakes, mangrove forests, and swampy salt mashes. These saltwater wetlands are normally impacted by waves, tides, and currents in the oceanic settings, where coral reefs and aquatic sub-tidal beds are made up of kelps and sea grass. In the ecosystem, wetlands are important feeding and nursery areas for marine animals, such as fish, water birds, mammals, reptiles, dugongs among many others. Flora forms part of the food web within the ecosystem. Thus, wetlands are greatly valued for their tourist and recreation importance. Besides, riparian areas provide important refuge habitats for migratory water birds to rest. Coral reefs are well-known marine underwater structures made from calcium carbonate produced by corals, which have very high levels of biodiversity. They are colonies of tiny animals dependent on the food produced by the abundant microscopic algae (zooanthellae) that live within the corals.
Food availability and light influence the distribution of life within the ocean heavily. It results in special adaptations seen in deep-sea animals. The twilight zone ranging between 200 and 1,000 meters, beneath which the sunlight does not penetrate, but still comprises a diverse set of animals, such as fish, crustaceans, and squids that make nightly forays into the food-laden surface waters of the ocean environment. However, this deep sea ecosystem faces threats from the current oil and gas drilling activities that are major causes of negative impacts after trawling and other fishery activities, posing serious threats to fauna unable to avoid the affected area. Drilling cuttings and mud from oil and gas exploration are toxic to corals, causing death and alter feeding and breeding behavior in shallow and deep water. They also inhibit the settlement of growing larvae of invertebrate due to lower resistance of deep-sea communities, as well as their slower recovery rates.
Reports presented in a B-WET Workshop on April 1, 2011, and a consecutive status update on the same in 2012 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) documented that deep water horizon spills caused skin lesions to a large diversity of bottom fish species at the Northern Gulf of Mexico that begun right after the spill. It was then discovered that the skin lesions in 2011 were more frequent in some bottom dwellers, but the intensity declined by 53% in 2012, which suggested that the exposure was due to a single episode. Dissected livers of fish samples collected during this period showed a high concentration of hydrocarbon in their bile caused by oil-related pollution. Scientists therefore concluded that the skin lesions in the catch of 2011 in the Gulf of Mexico were a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill.
Since oil is no longer visible on the surface, scientists have found a significant amount of it on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. More oil has been washed into wetlands and beaches and is likely to persist for years, making the creation and implementation of successful restoration plans seriously challenged. Having occurred at the peak of the breeding season of many species of fish and wildlife, the oil spill resulted into the unbalanced food web, since oil toxicity affected eggs and larval development, diminishing or even wiping age classes and food webs. Fluctuations in the fish and wildlife populations have been recorded since then and are expected to occur even in the years to come. It can be related to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster that resulted to the collapsing of the herring population that has not recovered until nowadays. A comprehensive physical investigation on many species of dolphins at the Barataria Bay, a heavily oiled area of the Louisiana coast, documented that almost a half of the dolphin population were ill, and 17% were not expected to survive. The amount of sea turtles stranded on the shore also increased from an average of 100 to 500, most of which were Kemps ridley sea turtles, which were endangered greatly. The survey was conducted using questionnaires, scientific research reports based on laboratory tests, and the records documented in the past.
A decline in the recreation activities at the Gulf of Mexico is also reported to have greatly affected the economy in the sphere of commercial fishing and outdoor recreation. According to the NOAA, commercial fishing gave 659 million dollars in selling shellfish and finfish in 2008, when just three million people took fishing trips at the Gulf that year. However, after the spill, recreational activities on the Atchafalaya Delta to Mobile Bay were completely shut down to August 2011, and the closures caused a serious blow to the park’s summer revenue.
In conclusion, there is a need for marine conservationists to enlighten people what happens under water. The marine environment remains inscrutable and very mysterious for many. The effects of human activities are visible on land, and people are constantly reminded of the need for an action. However, this is taken lightly and may cause an impact that may not be reversed in the near future.
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