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Corexit Kills the Food Chain

July 7, 2010

Recently, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association gave a conference call where wildlife paraprofessionals could ask questions and get answers regarding oil spill response in Florida.

The questions were not particularly probing, and the answers were fairly pat. I had just come from happy hour and frankly, I was on the verge of nodding off. Then a fellow named “Jack” from a conservation group whose name I did not catch asked what was being done about the massive die off of fish, sharks, rays, crustaceans, and other sea creatures in the Gulf.  Was anyone trying to save any animal that was not a bird, sea turtle or cetacean?  Were the deaths of non bird, turtle or mammal marine creatures being carefully documented?

The answer, of course, was “No.”   Nor, we learned, would they consider allowing any group (such as Jack’s) to volunteer to clean coquina shells or save sunfish.

In fact, the Fish and Wildlife officers acted as though the request was positively ridiculous.  When Jack became indignant about this answer, one officer told Jack was told he was “out of line.”  In the background, I could hear one of the officers mutter “God!” in disgust and exasperation.

But Jack has a point.

In case anyone does not understand how the food chain works in the ocean, let me go ahead and explain it to you.  At the bottom of the marine food chain are tiny plants and animals known as plankton.  Zooplankton–the animal form of plankton– is made up of various larval stages of creatures such as echinoderms, eels, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and corals as well as tiny creatures like copepods, rotifers and krill.

If oil or Corexit kills the plankton, the base of the food chain, the larvae of entire generations of certain animals may be wiped out.  All the creatures who eat plankton will also die, and many, many, many different kinds of animals eat plankton.  Some of these creatures are very small, while others grow larger than a school bus.

If the small fish and animals die, the larger animals who eat them will starve. Finally, we will lose the birds, sea turtles  and cetaceans–the very creatures we are actually attempting to save in the Gulf.

So even if you do not care about the individual lives of every tiny creature, you need to be worried that Corexit is toxic and oil is affecting blue crab larvae.

By concentrating solely on the “charismatic” animals, we prove that the clean up, environmental remediation and wildlife rescue operation is more about putting on a show for the cameras than actually saving the ecosystem in Gulf of Mexico.

(Jason Caldwell / Fox 10 News) The orange blobs are oil.

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