This story has been updated with a response from BP.
As the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill approaches, a leading environmental group is warning that the event is far from over. Increased deaths of dolphins, sea turtles and other injured species are signs of continuing contamination.
The National Wildlife Federation says the number of dead dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico has increased threefold since the April 2010 oil spill.
Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley:
“They can be an indicator species, if you will, that there are impacts further down in the food chain that can accumulate and be demonstrated in the predator species," Inkley said. "So if our top-level species are in trouble, that tells us there’s a problem.”
Inkley says the Exxon Valdez spill 25 years ago showed the long-term effects of oil. The herring population, for instance, crashed four years after the tanker accident and still hasn’t recovered.
Texas A&M marine scientist Pamela Plotkin says the cleanup also took a toll on wildlife, especially on sea turtles caught up in oil that was burned off the surface.
“Juvenile sea turtles spend a great deal of their time at the surface in the areas where the burns occurred," Plotkin said. "So we’re never really going to know the full, immediate impact of the oil spill, but we do know that at least 1,200 turtles were directly impacted.”
The federation says it’s vital to make sure BP fines and penalties are not diverted away from environmental restoration.
BP issued a strong rebuttal to the NWF, saying the environmental organization isn’t a member of the scientific group charged with researching the impact of the spill.
“The National Wildlife Federation report is a piece of political advocacy — not science,” BP spokesman Jason Ryan wrote in an email. “It cherry picks reports to support the organization’s agenda, often ignoring caveats in those reports or mischaracterizing their findings.”
Ryan says independent studies show the Gulf is undergoing a strong recovery.