Carl Safina spent months covering the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for an upcoming book. As the head of the Blue Ocean Institute, he knew how catastrophic the spill might prove for the Gulf. Yet nearly a year after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began, on April 20, 2010, Safina is guardedly optimistic. "A lot of questions remain, but I think that most people expected it would be much worse by now," he says.
Though there's still a lot of uncertainty, the Gulf appears to be bouncing back, several studies have found. Defensive measures kept much of the oil from reaching the shore, while bacteria in the Gulf digested much of the remaining hydrocarbons. Fisheries seem to have rebounded too, and they may even have benefited from the months-long moratorium on fishing in parts of the Gulf.
But a year is far too short a period to draw firm conclusions from. Researchers have also found evidence of oily invertebrates on the Gulf floor, while dolphins have been washing up dead by the dozens. As Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation puts it, "The Gulf spill is far from over."