No one knows for sure what the long term effects of the BP oil spill will be, but scientists are discovering that nature itself may hold the key to answering that question. For years, Peter D. Roopnarine, the curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology at the California Academy of Sciences, has tracked the impact of oil pollution in the San Francisco Bay by reading oyster shells. Now Roopnarine, along with Associate Professors Laurie C. Anderson of Louisiana State University, and David H. Goodwin of Denison University, will be using this method to research the long-term effects the BP spill will have on the Gulf of Mexico’s food chain.
According to Roopnarine, when mollusks grow they act much like trees in that they show their layers and keep a record of their living environment. Heavy metals like vanadium and nickel, which are found in crude oil, create variations in shell composition allowing scientists to track the various stages of the oil spill. Looking at the mollusk shells should also give scientists insight as to how quickly and to what extent the metals have entered various levels of the food chain. There is no doubt that the BP oil spill will affect the Gulf’s food chain for a long time, and could even lead to animals ending up on the endangered list and worst case scenario — extinct.
No matter how well the cleanup goes, oil will still have found its way into many animals, who in turn will eat other animals, who eat other animals, etc. By that process, the metal from the oil will undoubtedly end up in the stomachs of sea life that was nowhere near the initial spill, and it will end up in the eggs and young of animals who gave birth this spring. As a result, we may lose a whole generation of sea life, and things will be permanently altered in the Gulf — the damage has been done.
And Roopnarine doesn’t want the public to be mislead about that damage. As he told the New York Times, “My concern is a term that’s being used frequently by folks at BP and the Coast Guard: ‘ecological restoration.’ We should be talking about remediation. We have no positive indication from all our research that we can restore ecosystems once we’ve damaged them severely. We replant forests, we replant mangrove swamps. We never get back what we lost.”