Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bahamas: The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill could impact the pristine islands of Cay Sal Bank and Bimini for years

Oil spill could affect Bimini, Cay Sal Bank for many years
Tribune Staff Reporter

OIL from the Gulf of Mexico spill could impact the pristine islands of Cay Sal Bank and Bimini for years to come, prompting long-term plans for ongoing environmental monitoring of the region.

With the National Oil Spill Contingency Team scheduled to meet today to discuss the requirements of future expeditions and work out how much they will cost, Bahamas National Trust (BNT) director Eric Carey said he wants British Petroleum (BP) to foot the bill in advance.

Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig 5,000ft below the ocean surface since an explosion on April 20 and continue to gush from the rig as repeated attempts to plug the leak have failed.

Deepwater Horizon is expected to continue spewing oil into the Gulf until the drilling of a relief well has been completed next month.

But even if the leak is stopped, Mr Carey said we will have to watch out for the thousands of gallons of weathered oil which could reach the shorelines of the Cay Sal Bank and Bimini cays in the form of oil slicks and tar balls for years to come.

A report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last Friday estimates Cay Sal Bank and the Bimini Cays are 41 to 60 per cent likely to have shoreline impact from the spill, while the northwest coast of Grand Bahama is 20 per cent likely to be impacted, and Andros is less than one per cent likely to be impacted.

Although marine life is not thought to be at risk, Mr Carey said this has yet to be tested in the Bahamas.

He said: "We are fortunate, we believe we won't have what we see in the Gulf - all of that oil slushing onto beaches - but these dispersants, and the damage it could do to our ecosystem, is unknown.

"NOAA has concluded they don't really harm marine life, but I don't know if they have tested our corals and determined how sensitive they are.

"A lot of these things have to be done. This is a long- range project. Even when people think there is no more oil coming out, there is still going to be tonnes of oil still in the Gulf, and thousands and thousands of gallons of dispersants, so we are going to have to continue to monitor this thing for years to come, and we are going to have to cost that out and get that funding for continued monitoring and expeditions."

The uninhabited cays of Cay Sal Bank are home to thriving sea bird nesting sites, sea turtles and various marine species valuable to the fishing industry.

However, the scientific data documenting natural resources in the area is extremely limited.

The expeditions allow scientists to collect sediment samples from land and document the diversity and abundance of commercial fish and other marine species underwater as well as monitor impact from the spill by monitoring birds and terrestrial life.

There have been two expeditions to Cay Sal Bank and one to Bimini since last month.

Findings from the latest mission to Cay Sal Bank, which returned on June 25, found no evidence of oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon.

The next expedition should set sail in around two weeks and Mr Carey said it will be better organised than previous trips and he hopes BP will cover the costs.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is investigating avenues for making legal claims against BP.

Mr Carey said: "The National Trust still believes we should be going to BP and we will continue to advocate for that because by the time we reach the litigation stage BP may have already filed for bankruptcy and be off-limits for any normal litigation process.

"We believe it is important to come up with a number, which we can do when we work out how much it will cost."

July 06, 2010