On a recent trip to Australia, I had the good fortune to spend a day scuba diving and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. From above, the water appeared blue, calm, and seemingly empty. But as soon as I dipped below the surface, I was amazed. As far as the eye could see, the underwater world teemed with animals. Schools of clown fish (think Nemo) zipped past exotic 30-foot tall coral reefs. Groups of wrasse, a fish that's bigger than my 70-pound dog, swam by, their huge faces oblivious to the giant green sea turtle snoozing on the sea floor just below. Angel fish nibbled on small invertebrates; nearby, gorgeous parrot fish gnawed at the algae growing on the coral. There weren't just dozens or hundreds of animals under the sea; I could see thousands, and that was just in the small area where I was diving. What about the rest of the ocean?
I am thinking about all that wildlife now, as the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico continues seemingly without end. The people whose lives are being affected by the millions of barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf's waters deserve as much attention as they're getting. They've lost their livelihoods, their neighborhoods, and in some cases, their very lives.
But the animals trying to survive in the water are in some ways even more vulnerable. They have nowhere else to go, and for the most part, no way to remove the oil once it gets on their bodies. At least 25,000 animals appear to have died from the oil spill thus far, including dolphins and sperm whales. Many other fish, like bluefin tuna, are at risk because they're in the process of returning to their breeding grounds right now – and those breeding grounds happen to lie smack dab in the middle of the oil spill disaster zone. It is not an exaggeration to wonder whether some animals will become extinct as a result of the spill.
Take a look at this list of "The Ten Cutest Animals" threatened by the spill. Sadly, there's not much we can do to help them in the short-term. Long-term, we must renew our commitment to kick our addiction to oil in favor of safe, clean renewable fuels.
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