Gulf oil spill

NOAA and many partner organizations have conducted research to determine the full extent of the damage from the spilled oil on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and economy. This spill impacted wildlife, habitats, fishing communities, and commerce along the large coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida.

Habitat impacts

The Gulf of Mexico’s diverse ecosystem includes deep-sea ocean ridges and trenches, mid-depth banks, barrier islands, beaches, coral reefs, and estuaries. As currents and winds spread the oil from the mile-deep spill site, all habitats were at risk of contamination. Estuaries and coral reefs are some of the most sensitive areas in the impact zone as they provide protection, feeding areas, and nurseries for a large diversity of species.

Aerial view of Barataria Basin marsh, part of the Gulf Spill restoration.
Restoring the Gulf: 10 years after Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Learn about NOAA's efforts to restore the Gulf's ecosystem in the ten years since the devastating spill.

Impacts to Wildlife

Sea turtles and marine birds were some of the first wildlife affected by the spill, as they live and feed on the surface where floating oil collects. Dolphins, whales and other marine mammals were also affected as they must come to the surface to breath. Oil accumulated on the skin of animals can make it difficult to breath and move in the water. Oiled birds can lose the ability to fly, dive for food, or float on the water which could lead to drowning. Oil also interferes with the water repellency of feathers and can cause hypothermia under the right conditions. Ingested oil can kill animals immediately; more often it results in lung, liver, and kidney damage which can lead to death. (Source: USFWS)

National Geographic videographer Bob Perrin films an oil slick at the Deepwater Horizon site.
A decade later: Advances in oil spill science since Deepwater Horizon
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil well drilling platform killed 11 workers, and started the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, releasing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA was on the scene from the earliest moments of the crisis, bringing more than 25 years of experience protecting and restoring our coasts from oil spills.


Fish, shrimp, and shellfish are basic parts of the Gulf’s food web and are also important to the economic health of the region. To minimize human exposure to potentially unsafe seafood from the spill region, more than 80,000 square miles of commercial and recreational fishing grounds were closed while scientists investigated the impact of the spill and clean-up efforts on these organisms. After careful consideration for public health these waters are open once again and ongoing monitoring continues to insure the safety of seafood and check the health of the ecosystem. (Source: NOAA Keeping Seafood Safe)

Gulf sunset.
10 things a non-scientist has learned in the decade since Deepwater Horizon
An oil spill science communicator for the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium shares her experiences as a resident of the Gulf of Mexico during Deepwater Horizon, and what she’s learned since then.

Restoration Efforts

Cleanup and restoration efforts have been ongoing since the summer of 2010. Primary restoration activities work to restore or replace habitats, species and services back to their original condition where possible. Through compensatory restoration efforts businesses and the public are provided compensation for losses as a result of the time natural resources are injured and unusable. Liability for these damages and restoration costs are still being determined.


Although several years have passed since the actual spill, the Deepwater Horizon/BP is still a current event and is seen frequently in the news providing teachable moments for educators. The materials provided with this collection present the facts surrounding the spill and ongoing research, monitoring, and restoration efforts. In addition to large oil spills such as this, non-point sources of pollution continue to threaten our ocean ecosystem. These sources can be as significant as the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill and are more directly linked to individual behaviors. Learning about both types of pollution can help protect ocean habitats by improving stewardship behaviors.

Produced in cooperation with the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration

Page updated March 2013