Tar balls on a Louisiana beach in 2010. Unfortunately, the tar balls still aren't gone.
Tar balls on a Louisiana beach in 2010. Unfortunately, tar balls still keep washing ashore.
Louisiana GOHSEP

As the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout approaches, laborious efforts to remove mats of oil and tar balls are still underway along Gulf of Mexico shorelines.

The U.S. Coast Guard just wrapped up a 10-day operation along a two-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach in Florida that recovered more than 450 pounds of oil from the spill, which was triggered by the explosion of a BP oil rig on April 20, 2010.

From the Pensacola News Journal:

Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Commander Natalie Murphy said most of that [oil] was found in one large mat.

“The mat was the only big hit, and we had some scattered tar balls but nothing else significant,” she said.

The search was field-testing scientific analysis of data related to the number of tar balls collected in the area since oil washed up on local beaches in June of 2010, along with shoreline erosion and wave/current action to pinpoint likely spots where the oil may have become buried.

Similar cleanup efforts are tentatively planned along other beaches where BP’s tar balls continue to pollute the coastline, such as on Perdido Key near Pensacola.

With the three-year anniversary coming up this weekend, The Independent reports on the grim and still-unfolding legacy of the 4.9-million-barrel spill of crude:

Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013. More than 650 dolphins have been found beached in the oil spill area since the disaster began, which is more than four times the historical average. Sea turtles were also affected, with more than 1,700 found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012 — the last date for which information is available. On average, the number stranded annually in the region is 240.

Contact with oil may also have reduced the number of juvenile bluefin tuna produced in 2010 by 20 per cent, with a potential reduction in future populations of about 4 per cent. Contamination of smaller fish also means that toxic chemicals could make their way up the food chain after scientists found the spill had affected the cellular function of killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain.

Deep sea coral, some of which is thousands of years old, has been found coated in oil after the dispersed droplets settled on the sea’s bottom. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.

Meanwhile, locals and environmentalists continue to call for BP to be held accountable for the disaster. The company is currently on trial in New Orleans, where a judge will rule on how much it must cough up for payouts and federal fines. The New Orleans Times-Picayune posted photographs of a courthouse demonstration held Tuesday to commemorate the anniversary. From an Environmental Defense Fund press release:

“Three years after the Gulf was inundated with BP oil, the wildlife, habitats and people of the Gulf are still feeling the effects of the disaster,” [said David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation]. “In 2012 alone, some 6 million pounds of BP oil was collected from Louisiana’s shorelines and 200 miles of coast remain oiled. We can’t allow BP off the hook for anything less than justice requires—a full payment for its recklessness so that real restoration of the Gulf’s ecosystem and economy can begin.”

“We still have concerns about the long term effects on the Gulf and its estuaries. We still see oil on the surface after storms with no one out there monitoring it. We will not stop until we get the help we need,” Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.

“Our cuisine, culture and economy are all dependent on a thriving, healthy Gulf. That means we’ve all got a stake in holding BP accountable and ensuring effective restoration begins as soon as possible,” said Susan Spicer, chef and owner of Bayona and Mondo restaurants.

“Two years ago, BP promised $1 billion to early restoration to be used in two years. To date, BP has only spent seven percent of the promised total,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “Despite BP’s slick ad campaigns, the Gulf is still hurting and can’t wait any longer for restoration. It’s time BP be held fully accountable under the law.”