[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/25/art.pelicans.getty.jpg caption="Brown pelicans sit behind an oil boom surrounding their island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana."]
A huge oil spill oozing toward the Gulf Coast on Thursday threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, some in their prime breeding season, environmental organizations said.
The Coast Guard said Wednesday that the amount of oil spilling from an underwater well after an oil rig explosion last week has increased to as many as 5,000 barrels of oil a day, or 210,000 gallons, five times more than what was originally believed.
Although efforts to minimize the damage are under way and options under consideration include asking the U.S. military for assistance, wildlife conservation groups say the oil could pose a "growing environmental disaster."
"The terrible loss of 11 workers (unaccounted for after the rig explosion) may be just the beginning of this tragedy as the oil slick spreads toward sensitive coastal areas vital to birds and marine life and to all the communities that depend on them," said Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for the Louisiana Coastal Initiative, in a statement.
Coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida could be at risk, the organization said.
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