The lawsuit was filed on the six month anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP that killed 11 crewmen, injured 17 others and set off the largest oil spill in history. The spill was finally capped on July 15, but only after the damaged wellhead released 4.9 million barrels of oil, 4.1 million barrels of which went into gulf waters.
"The harmful effects of the BP oil well blowout on endangered and threatened wildlife will continue for many years," said Gregory Buppert, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the plaintiff groups. "Through this lawsuit, we ask the court to compel BP to provide the resources necessary to ensure imperiled species in the Gulf recover from this disaster."
Manatees in Tampa Bay, Florida, May 2, 2010 (Photo by David Mathews)
At least 27 endangered or threatened animal species are known to inhabit the gulf, including five species of endangered sea turtles, four species of endangered whales, threatened and endangered birds and Florida manatees. Click here for a NOAA list of endangered or theatened gulf species.
Among the concerns for gulf wildlife are immediate effects of exposure to oil and chemicals as well as long-term effects on reproduction and future generations and potential domino effects through the gulf's food chain.
The groups point to testimony during the President's National Oil Spill Commission on September 27, revealed that more than 50 percent of the total discharge of oil from the Deepwater Horizon remains in the gulf ecosystem, much of it in coastal and marine sediments.
The plaintiff groups are asking the court to order BP to mitigate the ongoing harm from the oil disaster to endangered and threatened wildlife that are part of the web of life in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Restitution for the harm done by BP to sensitive wildlife and their habitat will help protect the Gulf ecosystem and rich web of life upon which so many depend," said Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"From nesting birds on gulf beaches to turtles and sperm whales in offshore waters, an entire ecosystem is damaged," said Wannamaker, demanding that BP be compelled "to take steps to restore the gulf's health for current and future generations."
The cumulative oil-slick footprint from the Deepwater Horizon spill covered thousands of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico. At least 650 miles of shoreline has been impacted by oil, including more than 380 miles in Louisiana, 110 miles in Mississippi, 75 miles in Alabama and 90 miles in Florida.
"Having spent nearly 40 years studying aquatic ecosystems, I know that they are made up of a complex interrelated and diverse assemblage of organisms, whose collective health depends upon each part to survive as a whole," said Patrick Rose, aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club.
"Having been dealt such an unprecedented insult from the oil, dispersants, and other byproducts of the clean-up effort, we must insist that the gulf ecosystem is both restored and protected against future threats," Rose said.
The plaintiffs - Defenders of Wildlife, the Gulf Restoration Network and Save the Manatee Club - are represented by lawyers from Defenders of Wildlife, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Eric Glitzenstein of the law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal.
"The long-term effects of the oil spill on life in and around the gulf remain to be seen, from tiny phytoplankton at the base of the food chain to blue crab, oysters, and fish caught and consumed by our families and communities," said Wannamaker, who opposes the Obama administration's action last week to lift the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.
"Until we know what these impacts are and how we prevent them from happening in the future, we shouldn't be drilling in deepwater. The government has the legal responsibility to protect our natural resources and it must vigorously exercise that responsibility."
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