Gulf Oil Spill

Pelicans and Booms
Kim Hubbard
A heavily oiled Brown Pelican sits hear healthy birds in Louisiana's Cat Bay.

Gulf Oil Spill

Audubon Rapid Response

On April 20, 2010, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off Louisiana's coast, unleashing an undersea volcano of oil and natural gas that would ultimately gush into the Gulf of Mexico for three months. Audubon staff sprang into action; our Louisiana Coastal Initiative and Mississippi River Initiative staff were first on the scene to assess the impacts and help guide and coordinate the emergency response.

Hundreds of volunteers took on critical response activities, assisting with oiled and injured bird transportation, protecting beach-nesting bird colonies, and making nets, cages and other materials used in bird rescue. Others helped monitor bird populations and health through citizen science initiatives, including the Coastal Bird Survey, a program that continues to this day.

Short-term and Long-term Impacts

After three months of desperate attempts, BP finally sealed the gushing well. By then, thousands of birds had died from contact with oil, the nesting season had been disrupted, and oil had reached 17 Important Bird Areas from Louisiana to Florida.

Only time will reveal the full toll of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Unprecedented amounts of oil, natural gas and dispersants entered the gulf in what amounts to an uncontrolled chemical experiment with unknown consequences.

In April 2011, Audubon staff continue to report disturbing findings: oil oozing out of marshes where Seaside Sparrows nest, weathered oil still washing up on barrier islands and ongoing cleanup activities threatening nesting success of at-risk birds like Wilson's Plover for a second year.

Other threats are not as easy to see. Birds may go hungry as oil reduces the availability of prey, including fish, marine worms, oysters, and crustaceans. Audubon's researchers found marine worms that shorebirds eat burrowing in tar balls on a barrier island in Louisiana. Analysis by our partner Millsaps College confirmed that these tar balls contain oil by-products that pose risks to birds' health.

Much more research is needed before the full effects of this disaster can be understood, but what is clear is that birds, habitats and communities continue to be harmed. Restoration and recovery must get underway quickly.

Hope for the Gulf

With a century-long legacy of conservation along the Gulf Coast, Audubon is committed to helping this vital region recover - from the BP oil disaster and also from decades of other environmental assaults. (See some of the places we are working.) Together, we can create a vibrant, sustainable gulf region for birds, for people and for the future.

Find out how you can help.