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Gulf shrimp skewered by oil disaster

May 21st, 2010

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

It’s hard to get emotional about shrimp. They don’t have sad eyes like a sea turtle. They don’t look like a helpless brown pelican covered in oil. They aren’t photogenic and the only time you see one is probably at dinner.

Gulf of Mexico white shrimp

Gulf of Mexico white shrimp

That’s unfortunate, and not just for the tens of thousands of people who make a living off the multi-million dollar shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

As crude oil creeps into Louisiana’s delicate estuaries and marshlands, shrimp – and the micro-organisms they eat – will die.

If  massive bogs of oil-and-water globules drift slowly in the oceans depths, as scientists and researchers assert, many more micro-organisms will die, and many more shrimp will perish and the same scenario – but much, much worse – will play out.

Thus, the fish and crabs and sea turtles and pelicans that eat shrimp will be in danger. And up the food chain we go.

Shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico are a unique sustainable resource. They only live a year, and each female shrimp can produce up to 500,000 larvae. The shrimp that are hauled onto ships are well into their golden days. Their ability to prolifically reproduce keeps the population large and healthy.

Only in the last few days has the public been given a real view – and more accurate numbers – of the gushing oil spill a mile below the gulf’s surface. For weeks, BP and the government said about 210,000 gallons of oil was flowing into the gulf daily. Now, BP acknowledges that its estimate was low — very low. Scientists now say that 20 times as much oil or 4 million gallons of oil every day may be gushing from the ruptured well head pipe a mile under the water’s surface.

After pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of Corexit dispersant into the oil, BP has been ordered use a less toxic product. Critics blame not just BP, but the government for a slow, passive reaction to the disaster.

While attention focuses on threatened birds and endangered sea turtles on the coasts and in the delicate marshes, it’s the frightening, massive environmental disaster lurking in the Gulf’s deep waters that could wreak the most havoc.

Shrimp are, in a sense, the canaries in the coal mine.

If their numbers are decimated, the entire ecosystem of the gulf and the delicate coastal habitats for hundreds of species of creatures may falter or fail.

The worst thing is happening out of sight, says Larry McKinney, the executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

“I’m becoming more concerned, and had some questions all along, about what was happening to the oil, and the amount of oil. Reports said the oil is being captured at several levels, some 1,000 feet deep, some close the surface,” McKinney said.

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