What will all of this do to the Gulf's rich marine life—its sperm whales and bluefin tuna, rare creatures that were once otherwise; or its lordly whale sharks (the planet's biggest fish) and billfish? What will it mean for the 150,000 dolphins in these waters, creatures with skin so sensitive that oil burns and blinds them? Or the large fish that keep the system in balance, the snappers, amberjack, and groupers? As the crude and dispersants flow during spawning season—how will the fragile larvae and eggs fare? And let's not even talk about sea turtles. (Hundreds of the Gulf's five resident species—all threatened or endangered before this—have already died.) No one knows what effects this unprecedented chemistry experiment might have on the region's living things, but many scientists fear the worst. The ocean's senior denizens, its magnificent predators, the toothed and the finned, the small and the humble, the ancient corals, the exquisitely adapted: At best they will suffer. At worst, they'll be gone.
During a visit to the region, President Obama told residents that "things are going to return to normal." It's hard to imagine how. After a tragedy like this one, none of us can ever be the same. But that doesn't have to be the end of this story. Human spirit is a transcendent thing, and it shines even under a blanket of heavy crude. We see it in the volunteers who have flocked to the Gulf to rescue animals and clean up beaches; the countless people who have donated money and time; the community leaders; the environmental groups; the scientists who are risking their own health to dive into the oil for answers; the collective effort to help in any way possible. For all that we've lost here, there is something we can find: the strength to get past this, the humility to fix our mistakes, and the determination to do whatever it takes to never let it happen again.
What you can do: 11 ways to help save the planet