Under Siege: Marine Life vs. the Gulf Oil Spill

The oil spill from space

The oil spill from space, NASA

Birds, sea turtles, and dolphins get most of the press, but all marine organisms in the Gulf of Mexico are threatened by the catastrophic oil spill that followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig on April 20, 2010. Every habitat — from intertidal oyster bars and mangroves, to shallow seagrass beds, to coral reefs, deepwater sand plains, and pelagic Sargassum algae — includes hundreds of species of invertebrates (coral, barnacles, snails, clams, starfish, sea urchins, sponges, and others) that depend upon clean water to survive. Even though the leak has been effectively stopped, authorities around the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys remain vigilant, watching for long-term effects of the oil and dispersants. This website is here to remind everyone about the marine habitats and the other 15,000 marine plants and animals that deserve our attention.

Our Museum of the Earth explored this topic in 2010 in a temporary exhibition entitled “Under Siege: Marine Invertebrates at Risk in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys.” The exhibition included specimens from PRI's research and teaching collections of species living below the surface that continue to be at risk of being affected by this and other oil spills. During the height of the oil spill, we featured a video of the partially capped oil pipe nearly a mile below the ocean’s surface, and provided news bulletins (updated weekly) on the topic.

Here are a few of the specimens that were on display:

Giant Hard Coral

Pillar Coral

Conch Shell

Conch Shell

Easter Oysters

Eastern Oysters

Sea Pens and Urchins

Amber Pen Shells and Rock Boring Urchins

This exhibit made possible by donations from Dr. Harry Lee and Mr. Philip Bartels.