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Wildlife Struggling Five Years After BP Oil Spill: Report

Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new report says that creatures like dolphins haven't fully recovered.
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/ Source: NBC News

Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new report says that creatures like dolphins, sea turtles and fish still haven't fully recovered.

Bottle-nose dolphins were found dead on the Louisiana coast in 2014 at four times historic rates, according to "Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster," released on Monday by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report also claims that fish including mahi mahi and red snapper, coral colonies, and white and brown pelicans are still struggling. Around 32 percent of laughing gulls have died as a result of the oil spill, the National Wildlife Federation said.

The report also said that between 27,000 and 65,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtles died during the oil spill and that the number of nests discovered every year since has gone down, despite being on the upswing before 2010.

"This is substantiated by sound science and supported by many experts across the Gulf region and beyond," Ryan Fikes, co-author of the report, told NBC News.

An explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010 caused around 200 million gallons of crude oil to spill out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Geoff Morrell, BP's senior vice president of U.S. communications, said in a statement to NBC News that the National Wildlife Federation's report was a "work of political advocacy by an organization that has referred to the Deepwater Horizon accident as 'an historic opportunity' to finance its policy agenda." He said the report "conveniently overlooks five years’ worth of government data and information from third-party scientific papers that show that damages were limited and the Gulf is undergoing a strong recovery."

BP has set aside nearly $50 billion for clean-up costs and compensation to victims of the spill. The company tried to get some of that money back in court, but a federal judge said BP must stick to agreements it made after being found "grossly negligent" in the oil spill.

Earlier this month, BP released its own report that claimed that wildlife in the region was "returning to pre-spill levels" and that the spill did not cause any "significant long-term population-level impact to species in the Gulf."

“The data and studies summarized in this report are encouraging and provide evidence that the most dire predictions made after the spill did not come to pass,” Laura Folse, BP’s executive vice president for response and environmental restoration, said in a statement.

Fikes argued that BP's assertion that there was no "long-term population-level impact" was premature.

"No one knows that yet," he said. "It's far too early to make that determination. Many of these species are long-lived and we're still collecting data on them."

While dolphins might be draw tourists, its often more visually humble creatures like fish, crab and oysters that keep many local fishermen and restaurant owners in business. In 2012, commercial fishing was a $763 million industry in the region, according to a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Those fish can wind up on plates at restaurants like Borgne in New Orleans, where the signature dish is "fish in a bag," consisting of local fish baked in a parchment bag with caramelized fennel, onion, tomato and blue crab fat.

Owner Brian Landry said things have improved in the years since the oil spill, but not all ingredients are as plentiful as he would like them to be.

"The availability of seafood is definitely species-specific," he said, noting that local oysters and blue crab can still be difficult to find. "I don't want to say the oil spill is the reason, but I wouldn't want to rule it out either."

Louisiana's trip ticket system of tracking seafood makes it easier for him to select seafood from clean areas. As a former member of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board, however, he hopes that lawmakers will do more to put the public's worries at rest.

"We still have oil washing up," he said.

It might take a while before the full impact of the disaster is known. The report named 20 animals that were affected by the spill. Damage to juveniles or reproductive systems might not become fully known for years.

In the meantime, the National Wildlife Federation would like to see those responsible for the spill pay for restoration efforts, including efforts to restore oyster reefs and the balance of fresh and salt water in estuaries.

"We would like BP to accept responsibility for their actions," Fikes said, "and accept the fact that impacts are ongoing and it's time to start restoring the Gulf."