Local Researcher Assesses Gulf Coast Disaster

By Pei-Sze Cheng
|  Saturday, Jun 12, 2010  |  Updated 10:00 AM EDT
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While the world watches the disaster in the Gulf, a researcher from <a title=Long Island saw the damage for himself and even testified before Congress." />

While the world watches the disaster in the Gulf, a researcher from Long Island saw the damage for himself and even testified before Congress.

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As the world watches the disaster unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, one researcher from Long Island went to assess the damage for himself.

Carl Safina, a prominent ecologist and marine conservationist, heads the Blue Ocean Institute in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

“I don’t really like relying entirely on news reports," said Safina.  "And I have a different kind of eye for wildlife and conservation so I really had to see this for myself.”

Using his extensive training as an ecologist, Safina documented his latest trip to the gulf as he flew over the source of the spill. 

"What struck me is how much wider the affected area had grown," Safina told NBCNewYork.  "There's no open water without at least visible oil on it for quite a few miles. I would guess [there are] at least a hundred square miles around the blow out site."

The estimates of how much oil is actually flowing are very crude at this point. Before the containment cap was put on, the government said 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day spilled into the gulf.  But that was after earlier estimates of a 1,000 to 12,000 barrels a day. 

“The oil is toxic and the dispersant they are using is toxic as well," said Safina.  "The dispersant dissolves the oil and takes it down into the water. I don't think they should have done that.  But I think they did it to hide the evidence, because in the end, they will be judged by how much oil was spilled into the ocean.”

While Safina said the ecological system will bounce back, eventually, life for residents will take much longer to get back to normal.  The oil spill has closed beaches and endangered the local economy. Fishermen cannot fish out of toxic waters and charter boat owners cannot take groups out to fish. Real estate agents have had to return deposits for summer rentals because no one wants to travel and vacation on tainted beaches. 

Safina has traveled far and wide to cover ecological disaster but he fears this situation in particular will have far reaching consequences because of its location -- and he told that to lawmakers when he testified before Congress last month.    

“This is by far the most completely unpleasant and at times overwhelmingly sad trip," he said. "Sometimes you get to the point where you can't take it anymore, it just makes you so angry.”

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