Offshore Drilling in the Bahamas Threatens South Florida’s Coast & Keys

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) offshore oil exploration project, which began in December 2020, has downplayed the threat of an oil spill to Florida’s southeast coast, the north coast of Cuba and The Bahamas themselves, according to the Miami, FL-based conservation and advocacy group, the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT). 

Example of habitat in the Bahamas that could be impacted by an oil spill. Credit Dr Aaron Adams
Example of habitat in the Bahamas that could be impacted by an oil spill. Credit Dr Aaron Adams

Specifically, ocean modeling output reveals the currents in the Santaren Channel and Old Southern Channel, both of crucial concern given their proximity to BPC’s first oil well, are northward flows, not southerly as presented in the EIA. Additionally, the potential flow of an oil-water mixture along the Old Bahamas Channel and Nicholas Channel would be westward, suggesting that any oil-water mixture from a spill in this location would travel over the living coral reefs of northeastern Cuba and then westward via the Gulf Stream. This puts the Florida Keys and the southeastern U.S. at significant risk even without strong winds, and with strong winds from the southeast, the oil-water mix is very likely to easily cross over the Gulf Stream over the coral reefs in the Florida Keys and South Florida.

“There is no way to mitigate the effects of an oil spill on flats habitats. Once the oil gets into mangroves and onto shallow flats of seagrass, sand, mud, and limestone, it is there to stay. The ecology of the impacted areas will change for the foreseeable future. For example, years after an oil spill in a wetland in Maryland, fiddler crabs were once again present, but their burrows were very shallow rather than deep, as they should be. This impacts the ability of the crabs to escape predators and other stresses like cold weather. Prevention is essential. Emergency reactions after the fact don’t sufficiently remove the oil and can be very damaging in their own right,” says Dr. Aaron Adams, the Miami, FL-headquartered BTT’s director of science and conservation. www.bonefishtarpontrust.org

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.