Deepwater Horizon oil spill is creating mutant sea creatures almost 10 years later

Researchers have found mutant crabs in the wasteland left behind by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Gulf of Mexico went through one of the worst environmental disasters in history when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010. It spewed over 130 million gallons of oil into the ocean. Now, almost ten years later, the horrific accident is still altering the environment.

As reported by Atlas Obscura, video from a 2017 deep-sea dive shows that the oil-coated hellscape is creating mutant sea creatures. Though the site is inhabitable for most forms of life, a few species of crustaceans have migrated to the area. Those that do take up residence are now developing strange mutations like missing limbs, swollen bodies, and countless tumors.

Eerie Wasteland

Anywhere that’s 6,000 feet below the ocean’s surface is going to be a little weird. However, the area of the seafloor below the former site of Deepwater Horizon is unlike anything ever documented. The new videos show just how devastating the oil spill was for the environment. They also confirm scientists’ fears that the Gulf may never truly recover.

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Clifton Nunnally, a researcher from the Louisiana University Marine Consortium, shared his reaction to the footage, “Nothing prepared us for what we saw… Everywhere there were crabs just kicking up black plumes of mud, laden with oil. There were deformities, but mostly things were missing.”

Those “missing” things refer to not only the limbs of crustaceans but also all of the other marine life that typically inhabits the seafloor. So, why do crabs flock to an area that kills everything else?

It turns out that there’s a compound in the oil that closely mimics those naturally found in the crabs’ bodies. Of course, having this floating around in the water attracts them to the area. Unfortunately, when they actually get there, they absorb huge amounts of the compounds—which are then toxic.

Frightening Mutations

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the entire country turned its eyes to the Gulf to help with environmental restoration efforts. Support poured in for the countless seabirds and turtles that washed ashore covered in oil and stained with sludge. However, the deep sea got less attention.

While most of the oil spill was burned off the ocean’s surface, experts believe that approximately 10 million gallons are still on the seafloor. Nunnally says, “The deep sea is always out of sight, out of mind. You can burn off and disperse oil on the surface, but we don’t have the technology to get rid of oil on the seafloor.”

The researchers found that red crabs, red shrimp, and white caridean shrimp litter the area in populations eight times higher than normal. Unfortunately, they are almost all severely deformed. The creatures have massive tumors across their entire bodies, are covered in parasites, and are missing many limbs. With no escape and nothing to eat but other crustaceans, they are in a lose-lose situation.

As of now, it isn’t clear whether or not the Gulf will ever make a full recovery. If the evidence uncovered thus far is any indication, it will likely be decades or longer for the seafloor to return to its pre-accident state. In the meantime, no one can fully predict what other changes may occur.