Tarballs and Oil Beneath the Sand at Horn Island, MS

On Wednesday September 8th, a Greenpeace investigative team from the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise found oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill on the shores of Horn Island, just off the coast of Mississippi.

Science Coordinator Adam Walters and Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline dug small holes in the sand and discovered layers of oiled sand less than a foot below the surface.  Tarballs at various stages of weathering and various sizes were found on both the leeward and windward sides of the islands.  On one beach, a protected turtle nest had been marked just a few feet away from tarballs.  The oil onshore at Horn Island shows that the spill is far from cleaned up, putting Mississippi’s coastal habitats at risk.

“BP keeps telling us that the oil has been cleaned up,” said Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline, “This is outrageous.  Horn Island is a habitat for birds and turtles, and BP will not be able to attempt a cleanup without risking irreparable damage to those habitats.  The oil and dispersants, plus new invasive clean up methods using bulldozers will put this sensitive ecosystem over the edge.”

The reports of oil on Horn Island follow similar reports that oil has been found on beaches in Pensacola, Florida.  

“Much of the oil from this disaster will never be cleaned up.  What we see on the Gulf coast beaches is what made it to shore.  Vast amounts of the oil released into the Gulf will never reach the coast and will never be cleaned up. Instead, mixed, dissolved and dispersed into the water this oil it causing as yet unquantified and potentially highly significant effects on the Gulf’s aquatic ecosystem,” said Adam Walters, Science Coordinator.

The investigative work at Horn Island today is part of a three month long Gulf impacts expedition.  The Arctic Sunrise is acting as a platform for independent scientists to study the impact of the oil and dispersants on various Gulf ecosystems.  Scientists during the month of August studied blue crab larvae, marine mammals and sponges.   In September, two scientists will be on board, representing the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center.  The scientists, using already existing baseline data, will assess the impact of the oil spill sperm whale populations using acoustic buoys.  Additional scientists will join the expedition in September and October.

The Arctic Sunrise is a 50 meter long icebreaker purchased by Greenpeace in 1995. Since then, it has peacefully protested whaling in the Southern Ocean and documented the impacts of climate change at the poles. In 2009 the ship hosted scientists studying Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland, which calved an ice island four times the size of Manhattan in August 2010.

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