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Oil spill devastating to plants, animals

  |   May 27, 2010 at 7:35 AM
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VENICE, La., May 27 (UPI) -- The Gulf of Mexico oil spill now washing ashore is wreaking havoc on one of the United States' most diverse habitats, scientists said.

Scientists said oil-coated flora and fauna are struggling to live or simply dying because of the goo that has been a menace to the area, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Right now, scientists say they're seeing the worst effects of the spill in one area of the Louisiana coast, but expressed concern about what they're not seeing and worry that the ecological impact will only worsen.

"Now that the stuff is really sort of coming ashore, it really is living up to its potential. It's certainly breached the sort of outer defense system of Louisiana," James Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University, told the Post. "It's the very worst-case scenario for things like birds and mammals."

On Wednesday, the oil company BP began a "top kill" of its leaking well. The procedure, which continued Thursday, involves injecting high-pressure thick fluid into the well, hoping it eventually will overwhelm the leaking oil.

Oil has been spewing into the gulf since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, killing 11 rig workers.

Oil began washing up in Louisiana last week, first in the remote marshes near the Mississippi River's mouth then spreading into the maze of islands, lakes and bayous just west of the river.

So far, wildlife officials counted 440 birds affected by the spill -- 393 of which are dead and the rest captured alive. Dozens of turtles and dolphins have been found dead and scientists are testing to determine how many died from oil exposure, the Post reported. Oil-slicked jellyfish lay dead or dying on the shore.

Scientists said what they've found so far is a fraction of the number of animals affected.

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