In the wake of one of the world’s greatest ecological catastrophes, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, threats have grown for the Gulf of Mexico’s wildlife, sensitive habitats, productive fisheries, and the livelihoods they support. Long-term recovery efforts are likely to last for decades. And for some of the affected wildlife, the crisis will persist for generations. As part of a global program for ocean conservation, WCS has been committed to conserving several threatened species that use Gulf waters. We are taking steps to mitigate the impact of the crisis to these species and their ecosystems, and to contribute to long-term rehabilitation efforts.

Whale Shark Monitoring

The world’s largest fish, whale sharks swim across huge swaths of the globe year after year. They are particularly vulnerable to the effects of offshore oil spills. Whale sharks migrate through the northern Gulf waters each summer to feed on spawning reef fish (already severely impacted by the spill) and other seasonal sources of food. Because they spend a considerable amount of time grazing at the surface of the water, the risks of ingesting oil are likely to be high. Together with core partners, WCS has proposed to authorities overseeing the spill response that we conduct aerial surveys and other assessments for these sharks, as well as manta rays, in and around the region.

Sea Turtle Recovery

WCS’s New York Aquarium is working with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to provide a safe haven for sea turtles that become sickened by the spill. Once oiled animals have received initial treatment, we plan to take them into our aquarium facilities to monitor their health and help them recover. WCS is also working to direct increased federal resources to the joint National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Wildlife Branch of the Unified Command and establish a new grants fund for zoos and aquariums that assist in wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, or research.

Safe Harbor for Threatened Species

By bolstering populations of imperiled species in other parts of the Caribbean and throughout their range, we can help ensure their survival. For example, with all six species of sea turtles occurring in the U.S. listed under the Endangered Species Act, protecting the turtles’ remaining nesting beaches and feeding grounds has become critical. In Nicaragua and Panama, WCS has worked with local authorities to create protected areas for green and hawksbill turtles, and to reduce poaching by developing alternative livelihoods and protein sources for people who rely on sea turtle meat and eggs. We are now redoubling our efforts to increase funding for the Marine Turtle Conservation Act through supplemental funding for the Gulf response.

Working with Industry

As a global organization working in key seascapes from the Atlantic coast of Africa to the reefs of the Indian Ocean, we work to inform policy discussions on the impacts of offshore oil and gas development around the world. Based on our reputation for science-based conservation and our on-the-ground presence in more than 60 countries, WCS has developed working relationships with oil and gas companies to research and mitigate the effects of their practices on wildlife. For example, in the Gulf of Guinea and Angola, WCS is helping to set industry standards that are sensitive to the needs of the region’s humpback whales and leatherback turtles. These collaborative efforts are essential to ensuring such a disaster will not happen again.

Take Action

In the coming weeks, Congress will decide how much funding zoos and aquariums will receive to rescue and rehabilitate oiled animals. Without this critical support, the wildlife of the Gulf will suffer.

Please urge Congress to help save wildlife affected by the spill >>

Read more on the response in the Gulf
For the latest information on the environmental response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, please visit the website of NOAA, a key WCS partner >>