The Browning Newsletter ( on weather and environment ) : July Issue
-On June 3, 1979, Mexico’s Ixtoc 1 oil rig had a blowout and spilled 3.3 million barrels of oil spill into the Gulf. This spill was the second largest in history. Most of the damage was confined to Mexico and Texas. The state of Texas had two months to prepare and did a masterful job of protecting the sensitive bays and lagoons protected by the barrier islands. When the Mexican government saw the slick surround the Rancho Nuevo nesting site for the endangered Kemp Ridley sea turtle, it airlifted thousands of baby sea turtles to a clean portion of the Gulf of Mexico to help save the rare species.
It took 10 months to cap the well and the damage was devastating. In some zones marine life was reduced by 50%; in others, 80%. What survived wasn’t much better off. Scientists surveying fish and shrimp in the Mexican coastal waters near the spill, found them infested with tumors. Over 150 miles (241 km) of Texas beaches were coated with oil, some over a foot (30 cm) thick.
What was amazing, however, was how quickly most of the ecology recovered. Warm water, with turbulent hurricanes and growing bacteria recovers much quicker than the chilly Alaskan waters hit by the Exxon Valdez. In the Gulf, much of the oil evaporated; on beaches, the combined forces of pounding waves, ultraviolet light and petroleum-eating microbes broke it down. Most of the fish and beach populations were back to where they were before the spill within two to three years. After 6 years, it was difficult to find any evidence of oil. The worst impact was on sea turtles and some of the slow-breeding mammals – these took up to 2 decades to recover.
It doesn’t help this year’s bottom line, but the power of the Gulf to heal itself is awe-inspiring