Thursday, June 3, 2010

Will Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Affect the Caribbean?

UPDATE of June 17, 2010: Excerpt from Jamaica-Gleaner:

Oil-Spill Threat - Are Our Waters Safe?
. . ."All efforts to stem the flow of oil from the underwater well have failed and there are concerns in the Caribbean that the oil slick will reach its shores eventually, given the flow of currents," said the CARICOM secretariat - The Gleaner, June 10, 2010

So are we really in danger of the slick globs of oil that has so far washed up on all the shores bordering the Gulf of Mexico, ruining our pristine white sands and fragile coral reefs? While some may say no and others yes, this is just a look of the factors that could make the situation a possibility, and they include: ocean current patterns and weather patterns. . . the oil is drifting north and spreading along the coast of the US southern states, far from the Caribbean flow and the loop flow, at the moment, however this is projected to change over time. With the dispersion of oil though spreading quicker north then south it is expected to reach The Loop current eventually. This will result in a more rapid flow of the oil slicks to other regions that are in proximity to this flow, and other tangential currents, the more important question is where will it flow? . . . as the oil disperses further from the spill site it will likely travel southward to join The Loop Current and follow this stream along the Atlantic coast away from the Caribbean. The major part of the oil spill is not expected to flow latitude of the northern tip of Cuba, and not easterly enough to affect all the Bahamian islands, therefore using the surface current flow model only, we can safely conclude that Jamaica is in the clear, at least at this stage. . .

Hurricanes in the mix

The spill occurred well over a month before the June 1 start of the hurricane season, so the amount of oil leaked into the gulf of Mexico is estimated at 30,000 to 40,000 barrels a day, that is well over 80 million gallons of oil since the deepwater accident. To compound the problem, this season is predicted to be one of the most active seasons in recent years with 14-23 named storms (winds 39mph or higher)eight-14 hurricanes (winds 74mph or higher)three-seven major hurricanes (winds of at least 111 mph). Blow shows a history of hurricane paths of strength three and above that has passed though the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The diagram shows that generally the hurricanes will follow a north-westerly path much like the direction of the surface and deepwater currents, which it drives. Thus if any hurricane were to occur, it may actually act like a cleaner pushing oil slicks away from the Caribbean back into the Gulf of Mexico, or it may accelerate the flow into the The Loop current flow.

Still good idea to plan

While the imminent threat to solid beaches and wildlife at this time seems unlikely, it is still better to plan rather than wait and see, we need to formulate a response plan in any event to protect the beaches that sustain the economy and wildlife. Read Full Article Here.

UPDATE to this post June 16, 2010 from Go-Jamaica:

Jamaica's Coast Could Be At Risk

Jamaica’s coastal waters and marine life could be at risk of severe oil pollution from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during the present hurricane season.

Peter Knight, the head of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) told the Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) today that while the chances of the pollution remained low, the likelihood of this happening could not be ruled out.

He was responding to questions about NEPA’s preparations to handle the oil spill in the event of seepage into Caribbean waters.

The oil spill has already affected coastal waters in the US gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

“There is a national oil spill plan spearheaded by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and NEPA is a supporting agency,” said Peter Knight.

However, Knight admitted that NEPA lacks the necessary technical expertise.

However, he says the agency has been working with the University of the West Indies (UWI).

In Cuba, officials have been busily making preparations to protect the coast as the BP oil spill continues to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico.

Spill-fighting experts from the communist state’s oil-rich ally, Venezuela, have already been dispatched to the island to provide assistance.

Some forecasts predict gulf currents will carry the oil to Cuba, which is 145 km south of Key West, Florida.

UPDATE to this post June 15, 2010:
From the Associated Press:
Cuba preparing for possible arrival of oil spill
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ (AP) – 4 hours ago
HAVANA — Cuba's civil defense chief said Tuesday that authorities are preparing coastal residents for the oil spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico, and a top military official said its possible arrival would be "a disaster."

It still is unclear whether some of the millions of gallons of spilled crude will reach Cuba, though government scientists appeared on state television within days of the April 20 rig explosion that touched off the spill to say the island was not immediately at risk.

So far there has been no apparent impact on tourism to the island's breathtaking north coast beaches.

"In Cuba we have had small spills involving tankers on our coasts, but we've never had to confront anything of this magnitude," Gen. Ramon Espinosa, vice minister of the armed forces, said at a government meeting on natural disaster preparedness. "Nonetheless we are documenting and studying. We are preparing with everything in our power."

Espinosa provided no details on preparations, but added that "for Cuba it would be a disaster" if the spill hits.

Some oil has already reached the coast of Florida, and scientists worry that crude will get caught up in the loop current, a ribbon of warm water that begins in the Gulf of Mexico and wraps around Florida.

U.S. and Cuban officials have put aside nearly 50 years of frigid relations to hold working-level talks on how to respond. Espinosa said he had no information on any concrete cooperation.

Speaking on the sidelines of the same event, Ramon Pardo, head of Cuban civil defense, also said he could not comment on discussions with Washington.

But Pardo said Havana "is taking all precautions: the preparation of the coast, vigilance, creating all necessary conditions, preparing the people who live on the coasts that could be impacted."

Both Espinosa and Pardo said the island will rely on the expertise of Venezuela, one of Cuba's top allies and a major oil producer.

Update June 12, 2010 from Caribbean Net News:
Low probability oil spill in gulf could affect BVI
TORTOLA, BVI -- The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) is closely monitoring efforts to contain the thousands of barrels of oil, as well as gas, spewing into the gulf of Mexico for nearly two months although there is a low probability that the British Virgin Islands is under any threat.

The Regional Activity Center/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Center (REMPEITC), in consultation with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have advised of the low probability that this spill will affect the Caribbean.

However, as its trajectory nears the loop current, it has the potential to affect Florida, the northern coast of Cuba and the Bahamas. Should any oil reach the waters of the Caribbean Islands, it is expected to be weathered, with the volatile or harmful effects having been evaporated.

REMPEITC has advised that the greatest current impact for the Caribbean is anticipated to be tar balls reaching the beaches. In a report issued by Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Coordinating Unit to member countries this week, reported they are unable to identify any international convention or funds which will cover compensation for the current emission of oil from a deepwater well for an affected Caribbean state.  Read rest of article here.

UPDATE to this post June 11, 2010 from Caribbean Net News:
BRIDGETOWN, Barabdos (AFP) -- Caribbean officials voiced worry Thursday at the prospect of the mammoth Gulf of Mexico oil spill reaching their islands' famously pristine beaches, in a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Noting the "very sobering" analysis from Bahamian Foreign Minister T. Brent Symonette on what would happen if the oil reaches the powerful loop current -- which could sweep the spill past Florida to soil beaches of the Bahamas, Jamaica and beyond -- Clinton said: "We earnestly hope that does not happen."

Antigua's Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer noted the clear "anxiety in the region" about the spill smearing the island nations' idyllic, tourism-dependent shores.

Fresh US government figures released Thursday showed that between 20,000 and 40,000-plus barrels of oil were pouring from BP's ruptured Gulf well -- more than twice the government's previous estimate -- darkening the specter of what is already the worst oil spill in US history.

Clinton, here to meet her Caribbean counterparts and other regional leaders, admitted meanwhile that "our understanding of and preparation for dealing with a disaster like this is out of date."

Adding there were ways to deal with oil tanker accidents but not "catastrophic" blowouts in deep-water drilling, Clinton said there was a need "to start now to get better prepared to deal with something of this magnitude in the future." Read rest of article here.

UPDATE to this post June 10, 2010:
Article in the Jamaica Gleaner today, "Oil Slick Fears Grow for Jamaica"
 Failure to plug a deep-sea well which has spilled tens of millions of gallons of oil along the United States Gulf Coast could have disastrous effects on Jamaica's already depleted fish stock, a local marine specialist has warned.
While British Petroleum works feverishly with its latest strategy to stem the flow - with a containment cap which is capturing 630,000 gallons (2.4 million litres) a day and pumping it to a ship at the surface - Dr Karl Aiken, senior lecturer in the University of the West Indies' Life Sciences Department, says time is running out.

"Once it hits this area, we're going to have problems," said Aiken.

"The issue is, the reef fish stock around Jamaica is severely overfished. In fact, it's on the verge of collapse, especially on the north coast
"The reef fishery supports 85 per cent of the fishing industry of Jamaica. Actually, it's closer to 90 per cent," he added.

Spread by gulf stream

According to the university lecturer, through a network of loops and streams, the oil may wend its way along the Eastern Seaboard before reaching Bermuda.

"Once it crosses the Florida Keys, it's going to latch on and be caught in the gulf stream at its fastest point," Aiken said.

A feeder current would then take it from Bermuda, then towards the Bahamas and, possibly, to Jamaica through the passage separating Cuba and Haiti, Aiken said.

"By September or October, it could get as far as Bermuda," he pointed out. Read rest of article here.

Update to this post June 9, 2010:
Follow reEarth: Environmental Issues in the Bahamas for their posts on the oil spill.

See article of June 9 in The Nassau Guardian: Bracing for Oil Spill Impact

Article in The Tribune on June 7 from the Bahamas: Bahamas Could Be Spared Oil Spill for a Week
WHILE the Bahamas could be spared from the oil spill for at least another week due to favourable wind patterns, experts are warning that hydrocarbon poisoning of migrating birds and fish could threaten to destroy the regional environment.
Over the weekend, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) warned that a shift in wind patterns could lead to the oil reaching the Bahamas and Jamaica very soon.
CARICOM said on Saturday that a change in wind could push the oil past the southern tip of Florida and toward its northern member states, the Associated Press reported.
CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington said the members of the 15-nation group are concerned about how the oil spilling from an underwater well off the US coast will affect the region's tourism industry on which so many of them depend.
However, Neil Armstrong, senior forecaster at the Meteorology Office in Nassau, told The Tribune yesterday that the Bahamas should be safe for the time being.
A high pressure system in the area, he said, is keeping the spill to the north-northeast of the islands.
Mr Armstrong said it is "highly unlikely" that these favourable atmospheric conditions will change for at least another week.
While the actual oil from the Deepwater Horizon/British Petroleum (BP) spill may not reach the waters of the Bahamas for now, experts are warning that because there are no natural nor man-made barriers in place in the ocean to prevent the free movement of marine life, hydrocarbon poisoning of birds and fish migrating from the Gulf of Mexico could have a disastrous affect on the environment.  Read rest of article here.

UPDATE to this post June 5, 2010:
From an AP report in the Jamaica Observer today:
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Caribbean countries are warning that an oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico could reach the Bahamas and Jamaica.

The Caribbean Community says a recent change in wind patterns could push the oil past the southern tip of Florida and toward its northern member states.

Secretary-General Edwin Carrington said Saturday that tourism-dependent countries in the 15-nation group are concerned about the oil spill from an underwater well off the US coast.

The issue is expected to come up at Thursday's meeting in Barbados between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and regional foreign ministers.

With the deepening crisis of this BP oil spill, many in the Caribbean are worried about whether the oil will seep down into the Caribbean. It appears that Florida's coasts, northern Cuba and the Atlantic Ocean are most likely to suffer the effects of the oil as it travels through the Loop Current.  But like everything to do with this oil spill so far, we never seem to know from one day to the next whether we have heard the worst.  Can we believe BP?  Definitely not.  They have proven themselves to be reckless, incompetent and incapable of telling the truth.  Read Kate Sheppard in Mother Jones on BP's 10 Biggest Screw Ups.  Can we trust the American Government to tell the truth?  At this late hour they seem to be continuing to downplay the flow of oil.  The following videos and articles appear to outline the forecasted path of the oil.   From Huffington Post: The National Center for Atmospheric Research, a National Science Foundation program in Colorado, has animated computer simulations showing how, once oil gets caught in the Gulf of Mexico's fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks. It could then move north as far as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east:

A CNN report outlines the risks to Cuban waters of the oil spill: A strong ocean flow called the Loop Current is dragging a portion of the oil slick toward the Florida straits. The spill emanates from BP's Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, roughly 500 miles northwest of Lopez's village.

"This is one of most difficult systems to predict," said David E. Guggenheim, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation -- a conservancy group based in Washington. "It's basically a river at sea, influenced by the rotation of the earth, the tides, and the weather."

Scientists fear that oil strands could break off the main slick and wash up on Cuba's northern shores.

"We're especially worried about the fate of this oil spill and how it might affect the coral reefs, the fish population, and a very large population of nesting green sea turtles," said Guggenheim.

An article in the Jamaica Observer yesterday reports on Jamaica's efforts to ready itself in the event of an oil spill in its waters:

JAMAICA is currently in need of critical equipment to clean up an oil spill should one occur in the island's territorial waters, according to director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Ronald Jackson.

However, while the country would need external help both in terms of human resources and equipment to deal with such a disaster, the authorities have a plan in place and are preparing themselves as best as possible to mitigate its effects.

"The situation that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico would be way beyond our human resources and equipment capacity to manage on our own. We would have to evoke an external response in order to manage, as is the case of the United States at present," Jackson told Environment Watch.

The country's readiness to deal with an oil spill -- nothing even close in size to the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but perhaps the overturning of a tanker in the Caribbean Sea surrounding Jamaica -- is of concern, considering the importance of the marine environment to the nation's livelihood.

If your heart hasn't bled enough yet over this tragedy, look at these pictures taken today by AP Photographer Charlie Riedel of oil soaked birds. Look, and weep.


  1. I am glad to hear another Caribbean blogger writing about the oil disaster, and respectfully remind you that the Bahamas is in the Caribbean. Thank you for being a voice for the Caribbean environment.
    lynn sweeting

  2. Hi Lynn,
    Thanks for checking out the blog. Yes, I am aware of the Bahamas being in the Caribbean. The item highlighted in blue at the beginning of this post referring to the Bahamas is a news item directly from the Jamaica Observer. I sincerely hope that the Bahamas will NOT be affected by this insidious oil disaster.
    Best to you,

  3. im very sadden by the oil spill i have a trip to destin, florida in two weeks and im going oil or not. i wanna HELP!!! im also nervous for my home away from home JAMAICA... we are goin there in august and this is our 3rd year in a row. The oil will ruin the island... im prayin for my friends and my favorite vacation spot!!!!OIL PLEASE STAY AWAY....

  4. Thanks for your blog. Here in the US everyone is so focused on the affects to it's own shores, which admittedly are horrible, but no one ever mentions the affect this can have on the beautiful islands of the Caribbean.

  5. Thanks Sally and Anonymous for your comments and your concern for the Caribbean islands. I think we are all united in our concern for the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and yes, the Caribbean and the Atlantic too. It is hard to feel so powerless in the face of this disaster.