MEXICO CITY – The Ixtoc 1 oil spill in Mexico’s shallow Campeche Sound three decades ago serves as a distant mirror to today’s BP deepwater blowout, and marine scientists are still pondering what they learned from its aftereffects.
In terms of blowouts, Ixtoc 1 was a monster – until the ongoing BP leak, the largest accidental spill in history. Some 3.3 million barrels of oil gushed over nearly 10 months, spreading an oil slick as far north as Texas.
Surprisingly, Mexican scientists say that Campeche Sound itself recovered rather quickly, and a sizable shrimp industry returned to normal within two years.
Luis A. Soto, a deep-sea biologist, had earned his doctorate from the University of Miami a year before the June 3, 1979, blowout of Ixtoc 1 in 160 feet of water in the Campeche Sound, the shallow, oil-rich continental shelf off the Yucatan Peninsula.
Soto and other Mexican marine scientists feared the worst when they examined sea life in the sound once oil workers finally capped the blowout in March 1980.
In the months after Ixtoc 1 was capped, scientists trawled the waters of the sound for signs of biological distress.
“I found shrimp with tumor formations in the tissue, and crabs without the pincers. These were very serious effects,” Soto said.
Another Mexican marine biologist, Leonardo Lizarraga Partida, said the evaluation team began measuring oil content in the sediment, evaluating microorganisms in the water and checking on the biomass of shrimp species.
As the studies extended into a second year, scientists noticed how fast the marine environment recovered, helped by naturally occurring microbes that feasted on the oil and degraded it.
“We were really surprised,” Lizarraga said. “After two years, the conditions were really almost normal.”
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.