Factbox: Gulf oil spill impacts fisheries, wildlife, tourism

(BestGrowthStock) – Since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico triggered the worst U.S. oil spill ever, the economic and environmental impact of the accident has widened.

Here are some facts about the impact of the spill:

AFFECTED COASTLINE

Louisiana, the nearest state to BP’s gushing undersea well 42 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, has been the most affected by the spill so far.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said this week that more than 100 miles of Louisiana’s 400-mile coast had so far been affected by the spilled oil, including fragile marshlands and wildlife refuges.

He and other state and local officials have reported heavy sheets of oil soiling wetlands and seeping into marine and bird nurseries, leaving a thick stain of sticky crude on the Roseau cane that binds the marshes together.

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, said he saw dying cane and “no life” in parts of the Pass-a-Loutre wildlife refuge.

“Oil debris,” in the form of tar balls and surface “sheen,” has also been reported coming ashore in outlying parts of coastal Mississippi and Alabama.

In the week of May 17, Coast Guard officials found tar balls on some beaches in the Florida Keys, raising fears that a so-called Loop Current that runs from the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Straits may have already brought oil from the spill far to the southeast.

But laboratory tests subsequently showed the tar balls were not from the BP oil spill, the Coast Guard said.

FISHERIES

The U.S. government has declared a “fishery disaster” in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama due to the oil spill.

This makes them eligible for federal funds to offset the current and future impact on fisherman and their communities of the oil pollution in their fishing grounds.

Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry supplies up to 40 percent of U.S. seafood and employs over 27,000 people. The state is the second-biggest U.S. seafood harvester, after Alaska, and the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish.

NOAA on Friday extended the area closed to fishing in the Gulf as a result of the spill to 25 percent of Gulf U.S. federal waters, an area covering 60,683 square miles (157,169 square km), up from 20 percent previously.

It says it is taking this step as a precautionary measure to ensure seafood from the Gulf remains safe for consumers.

NOAA points out that approximately 75 percent of Gulf federal waters are still available for fishing.

But the ban affects hundreds of thousands of commercial and recreational fishermen, hitting the livelihoods of shrimpers, oystercatchers and charter boat operators.

WILDLIFE

Oil, some of it in thick sheets, but also in the form of sheen and tar balls, has already come ashore in Louisiana wildlife reserves like the Breton National Wildlife Refuge on the offshore Breton and Chandeleur Islands, and the Pass-a-Loutre refuge farther to the south.

Wildlife officials have reported more than 300 sea birds, nearly 200 turtles and 19 dolphins have been found dead along the Gulf Coast during the first five weeks after spill. But they stress that only a relatively low number of these had signs of external oiling, so they may not all be related to the spill.

The 316 dead birds collected along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — plus 10 others that died or were euthanized at wildlife rehabilitation centers after they were captured alive — far outnumber the 31 surviving birds found oiled over that period.

Journalists and scientists have also reported seeing at least one shark, and other creatures like eels and turtles, swimming through surface oil. Wildlife officials say they expect more marine creatures, birds and mammals will be affected as more of the oil comes ashore.

TOURISM

Tourism operators in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — from hotel owners to restaurateurs and boat charterers — have reported cancellations as a result of the spill, although some are picking up other business from journalists, officials and cleanup workers who have flocked to the Gulf Coast.

Amidst a scare involving tar balls found on Florida Keys beaches — later declared not to have come from the BP oil spill — Florida’s $60-billion-a-year tourism industry is also losing millions as a result of the incident, a top state tourism marketing official said earlier this month.

Of all the threatened states, Florida has the most to lose. Tourism is its economic lifeblood, its largest industry, generating $60 billion in spending from more than 80 million visitors a year, bringing in 21 percent of all state sales taxes and employing nearly 1 million Floridians.

Officials say even the threat of pollution that could come from the spill is enough to make a significant “dent” in the tourism industries of Florida and other Gulf states.

SHIPPING

Major shipping channels and ports on the U.S. Gulf Coast remain open, although some industry sources have reported possible delays caused by the oil slick.

NOAA said on Friday it had begun work to survey a new ship anchorage site at the mouth of the Mississippi River for ships to undergo inspection and oil decontamination before entering ports.

U.S. authorities are anxious to keep Gulf shipping operating to maintain vital U.S. exports and imports.

NOAA says Lower Mississippi River ports export over 50 million metric tons of corn, soybeans and wheat each year, more than 55 percent of all U.S. grains inspected for shipment.

Stocks

(Reporting by Matthew Bigg, Steve Gorman and Pascal Fletcher, editing by Pascal Fletcher and Todd Eastham)

(Other sources: NOAA)

Factbox: Gulf oil spill impacts fisheries, wildlife, tourism