(CNN) - Twelve months into this oil disaster there seem to be more questions than answers when it comes to the vast ecosystem that is the Gulf of Mexico.
Nature is resilient and can recover from most catastrophic events given enough time. Most scientists believe the Gulf will eventually recover, but when and at what costs?
Since January 1, more than 220 sea turtles and 175 dolphins have washed up dead on gulf shore beaches. Test results confirming a direct link to the BP oil spill won't be available for months. This is partly because good science takes time, but mostly because this information, along with a slew of other evidence, is being gathered to build a case for litigation against BP. Dirty water, damaged habitat, and dead animals all are being quantified to bring dollars back to restore the gulf.
Of all the solutions to the countless problems one seems to get the most attention: The Mississippi. Man-made levees and canals have changed the way the river feeds the gulf and its wetlands. Allow the river to "spread the ecological wealth" a bit by opening up the outflow and/or periodically releasing water/nutrients further upriver so the Mississippi Delta can replenish the wetlands that have been disappearing at astonishing rates for decades. Just a thought among many good ideas that may now be possible given the attention and dollars that will be produced from an eventual legal settlement.
Reporting on this disaster during the past year has brought me closer to these incredible creatures than I'd ever imagined. It's heart breaking to see the fatalities increasing at such alarming rates. Turtle and dolphin deaths this year are 10 to 15 times higher than normal. The Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi has been busy testing these animals while also rehabilitating rescued ones during this event.
On this anniversary date we felt it proper to spend the day at their facility. While here, I got to meet a couple of their resident "retired" dolphins, just two more amazing critters I've gotten to know on this assignment.
Related video: Wildlife recovering from oil spill?
Louisiana - We spent the last two days embedded with the National Wildlife Federation. First we surveyed some wetlands and islands hit directly with oil. Seeing 100s of brown pelicans and white herons nesting on oil stained islands (surrounded by an ineffective boom) was disturbing to say the least.
Most of the oil had retreated. The slick is dynamic. Constantly moving. Breaking up into patches then reforming in whole chunks. Reminds me of the old movie "The Blob," but this is real … and more scary.
On Wednesday, we ventured into the gulf with a team of scientists wanting to get water/oil samples. Didn’t take long to hit oil. Thick oil. Only 12 miles offshore. We saw sea creatures in the slick - some struggling, some dead.
The problem with marine wildlife in the open ocean - they’re called “pelagic” - is that most that die from this environmental disaster will not wash up on shore but rather sink to the bottom and never be counted. New estimates put the oil spewing from the well at over 12K barrels/day. Now this spill is bigger than Exxon Valdez. But that one happened at the surface … near shore. We could see the damage and we could see dead wildlife.
Here in the Gulf of Mexico, what we DON’T see will likely be much much worse.
BTW: I’m working with an amazing duo - field Producer Tracy Sabo and photojournalist Dominic Swan. Talented, tireless and two of the best in the business!
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