Gulf oil spill threatens more species

May 11, 2011 at 6:38 PM
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DURHAM, N.H., May 11 (UPI) -- Marine species threatened by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico far exceed those enjoying U.S. legal protection, researchers say.

University of New Hampshire Professor Fred Short and others say 39 additional marine species beyond the 14 protected by federal law are at an elevated risk of extinction, a university release issued Wednesday said.

"A lot of species in the Gulf of Mexico are going to be damaged by this oil spill but aren't on the U.S. radar screen, although they're threatened globally," Short, a professor of natural resources and the environment, said.

These species, which range from whale sharks to sea grass, should receive priority for protection and restoration efforts, he said.

Researchers say 53 species found in the area of the oil spill are categorized as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"There are species that are surely threatened that could be driven to extinction because of this oil spill," Short said.

Among the species not protected by U.S. law but listed as threatened by the IUCN are the commercially valuable western stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna and 16 species of sharks.

"Threatened species not yet listed in national legislation should nevertheless be the subject of damage assessments, targeted research and monitoring, as well as recovery efforts when needed," the researchers said.

"Next time this happens -- and we know there will be a next time -- we need to take this broader list into consideration," Short said.

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