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Case: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Location: 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta

On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon off-shore drilling rig killed 11 men. The rig sank and left the oil well leaking tens of thousands of barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico. In what has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history, hundreds of species and their habitats along the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida--as well as human uses of these resources--may have been affected.

Scientists from NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) mobilized quickly in the Gulf. In coordination with federal and state agencies and the responsible parties, the NOAA team collected data from pre-oiled and oiled natural resources. This information is critical to the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) process.

Data collected in the Gulf will help determine what natural resources have been injured and what human uses have been lost. Once the injuries and losses are known, we will work with our partners to compensate the public by restoring, rehabilitating, or replacing the natural resources lost or injured by the oil spill.

Work by federal and state partners under the Oil Pollution Act is currently in the preassessment phase to determine whether injury to or lost use of public resources has occurred.

Natural Resources of Concern in the Gulf of Mexico

Fish and Invertebrates

  • Species with essential fish habitat near the oil spill include: scalloped hammerhead, shortfin mako, silky, whale, bigeye thresher, longfin mako, and oceanic whitetip sharks; swordfish, white marlin, blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, longbill spearfish, and sailfish.
  • Other important fish in the Gulf include red snapper, grouper, gray triggerfish, red drum, vermilion snapper, greater amberjack, black drum, cobia and dolphin (mahi-mahi), coastal migratory pelagic (open water) species, such as king and Spanish mackerel, and pelagic sharks.
  • Shellfish in the Gulf include oysters and several species of shrimp and crabs.
Marine Mammals
  • Of the 28 species of marine mammals known to live in the Gulf of Mexico, all are protected and six (sperm, sei, fin, blue, humpback and North Atlantic right whales) are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
  • At least four species of threatened/endangered sea turtles (Kemp’s ridley, green, leatherback, and loggerhead) are residents of the northern Gulf of Mexico and are represented by all life stages. A fifth species, the hawksbill turtle, can be found in the southern Gulf.
  • The only nesting beaches in the world for Kemp’s ridley turtles are in the western Gulf of Mexico.
  • Marshes in the Gulf of Mexico provide extremely important habitat for feeding and nesting of several species that can be found in offshore waters, such royal terns and gulls.
  • Species of concern include nearshore and marsh birds: brown pelican, diving ducks, wading birds, piping plover (a threatened species) and pelagic (open water) birds such as shearwaters, northern gannets, and frigate birds.
  • Marine mammals, fish, and birds depend on clean, healthy habitats to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds. These habitats include salt and fresh water marshes, mangroves, mudflats, beaches, coral and shellfish reefs, water column and bottom sediments.

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