research | oil spills and natural resources

A small juvenile sea turtle rescued from surface oil during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico (photo: Blair Witherington)

Unlike persistent, pervasive threats like habitat loss, climate change, and others, oil spills are crisis events that happensporadically, often unpredictably. But when they do occur, the effects can be widespread and severe. I worked (and am still working) on the assessment of impacts and restoration planning related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico–the largest marine oil spill in world history that wasn’t related to a military conflict. The assessment team painstakingly estimated the total loss of natural resources, including protected species like sea turtles, marine mammals, and birds, and restoration of these resources is now underway to put things back the way they were before the spill.

It’s impossible to overstate the enormous efforts that natural resource Trustees from state and federal agencies invested in spill response, assessment, and restoration planning–efforts which continue today in the form of implementing restoration in the Gulf. There are so many people who deserve a lot of credit from the five Gulf states and several federal agencies; theirs are largely thankless, anonymous jobs performed under enormous pressure, high stakes of litigation, and big responsibilities of representing the public’s interests in natural resource restoration. Next time you see a Trustee, give ’em a hug. Or just say thanks.


See the Special Issue in the journal Endangered Species Research that describes effects of Deepwater Horizon on protected marine mammal and turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Natural Resource Damage Assessment Guidelines for Sea Turtles

Global review of oil spills and sea turtles (in press)

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