I'm sure we all remember the heartbreaking images of oil-drenched birds from the BP oil spill disaster. It's now six months on and the US based conservation organization, National Audubon Society, has sent a team of scientists to find out how the region is faring.
Science teams from Audubon carried out field surveys in late September and discovered that although bird populations along some of the worse hit areas of the Louisiana coastline appear to be doing relatively well, there are still great concerns about the future. According to Audubon's report, there is still oil seeping from under the sand in many parts which were previously hit the hardest by the oil spill, a point of great concern because large numbers of birds from a variety of species were sighted in these areas during the survey.
"Birds aren't wired to avoid threats from oil," explains Melanie Driscoll, Audubon's Louisiana bird conservation director. "And even if they look healthy now, we can't begin to predict all the health and reproductive effects that could show up later."
The survey also discovered a large number of juvenile brown pelicans in the area. This was of particular interest because the oil disaster occurred right at the start of the breeding season leading to fears that the birds would be unable to successfully reproduce. It would have been a huge blow because brown pelicans only recently came off the endangered species list. On the surface this would seem to be good news, however experts warned that the pelican sightings did not provide a guaranteed positive outlook.
"The science suggests there's cause for concern," says Thomas Bancroft, chief scientist. "But we simply can't know what direct contact with the oil will mean for long-term health and reproductive success of pelicans or terns or any other species."
The earth's ecosystem is an interconnected web which maintains a very delicate balance, so a devastating event like an oil spill can cause a cascading effect. Audubon says it will continue to assess the spill's impact on birds and their habitat and it is hoped that the ongoing monitoring of the area will provide planning strategies for long term recovery.
Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/teddyllovet