Oil leaks have been around longer than humans have been drilling. In Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of California, petroleum naturally seeps up through the seafloor. But natural oil seeps are slow, and old. The oil droplets rising through the water from the seafloor create only the thinnest of slicks on the surface, and the organisms that live over these seeps—like oil-gobbling bacteria—have evolved to cope with it. But the majority of ocean life never developed the appetite for oil.
Or much defense against it. Air breathing animals like dolphins and turtles suck in oil if they surface in a slick, and when even small amounts of oil end up in their lungs, they suffer fatal pneumonia-esque health issues. Plants and algae can’t photosynthesize under a grungy film. And even a few molecules of oil can kill fish larvae.
Human physiology isn’t a fan either. “Oil slicks can be very noxious. My graduate students have become ill from the fumes when we’ve gone out there,” says Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University. MacDonald and his students have turned the collapsed Taylor Energy site into something of a lab, because it reliably leaks between 84 and 1,470 gallons per day.
Carylsue.(2016, December 12). ARE INVISIBLE OIL SPILLS DESTROYING THE GULF OF MEXICO?. Retrieved from https://blog.education.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/14/%E2%80%8Bare-invisible-oil-spills-destroying-the-gulf-of-mexico/