Monday, December 15, 2014

Ecological disaster… say the least

Black color is oil. Sundarbans, Bangladesh. 

(Photo: JLewis, TDRF)
None of the main characters were available on this first day, so I hired a boat to take me to the spill area. I saw dolphins until I got to the area where I could detect the oil sheen on the surface. In this area, thick black oil covers everything on the shores up to the high tide line (about 2 m or 6 plus feet). 

This area is composed of mangroves which are trees found in tropical areas that are salt water tolerant (or at least many of them are). To deal with the salt water, they have evolved really interesting mechanisms to get rid of the salt when they take in water to survive. For example, some excrete the salt out into the backs of their leaves.

Roots covered in thick black oil. Sundarbans, Bangladesh (Photo: JLewis TDRF)
Mangroves are very important because they form critical habitat for many aquatic species. These trees have massive root systems that usually are below the water during high tide. Juvenile fish and many small organisms depend on these root areas for food and shelter. So the bottom of the mangrove works as a sort of nursery and home for lots of animals. If the roots of the mangrove are destroyed, many animals have no place to live. 

In the Sundarbans of Bangladesh (largest mangrove forest on Earth), the mangroves line the shores. Now, thanks to the oil spill, all these roots are covered in thick black oil. This prevents exchange of gases (so they can't "breath") and it prevents nutrient uptake (so they can't eat). You can guess what will happen now to these trees. And then without the trees what will happen to the animals that depend on them to live. This is just one example of how this spill will affect the ecosystem here in the Sundarbans.
Black ring across miles and miles of mangroves in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh. A result of the oil spill, December 2014 (Photo: JLewis, TDRF). 

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