Oil Spells Big Trouble for Little Fish

CNN reported this week that a small, recently-discovered deep-water fish may be on the verge of extinction as a result of the oil spill.  The Louisiana pancake batfish (Halieutichthys aculeatus) lives on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 1500 feet.  Interestingly, this little guy is in the same family as the deep-sea angler fish (the scary ones with the lights on their heads and HUGE teeth…watch Finding Nemo!)

Because the Louisiana pancake batfish lives on the bottom of the sea, the oil slick on the surface poses no direct danger.  However, these fish feed on floating invertebrates and plankton: if this food source is covered in oil (many species of plankton swim to the surface at night then return to depth during the day), the Louisiana pancake batfish is real danger.

Many would read this and go: Who cares?!  It’s just a little fish that we didn’t even know was there until a few years ago!  But here’s the thing: Firstly, this fish is a vital member of a highly complex and intricate food web: think about it like a game of Jenga.  The entire ecosystem is the tower, with all the different species (each piece) creating a stable structure.  Let’s say, for arguments sake AND because it is most likely going to happen, that the Louisiana pancake batfish goes extinct.  That is one block now removed from the tower.  This is probably not enough to make the tower collapse, but keep going…

Down the line another species goes extinct as a result of this spill.  Take out another block.  Then another, and another.  Eventually, that tower is gonna fall.  And when it does, we are all in BIG trouble!

And yes, it may start with a small, seemingly insignificant deep-water fish.  But this is not the first time: there have been casualties before. Does Chernobyl or the Exxon Valdez ring any bells?  And this most certainly will not be the last time something like this happens, IF we continue down this path towards self-destruction.  Instead we need to start thinking outside the box, encouraging creativity, and embracing change rather than rebelling against it.  The dark ages of oil are over: the sooner we realize this, the better off we will be!

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