More than five years after the U.S’ disastrous oil spill, the ocean’s defenceless inhabitants continue to suffer the effects of human negligence

Five years after BP blanketed the Gulf of Mexico with toxic oil from an offshore oil rig explosion, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it has reached a settlement of more than $20 billion with the oil company.

The April 2010 oil spill was the largest the United States had every seen, killing 11 workers and polluting the ocean for years to come. Millions of barrels worth of oil were emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and it took crews three months to clean up the neighbouring shores of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

The spill itself continued for 87 days before crews were finally able to make the necessary repairs.

The effects of this devastating spill were felt for months after the initial incident, and the ecosystem of the area still has yet to fully recover. With the money from this settlement, the U.S. and state governments hope to speed up the regrowth process, taking care of economic damages and working to save the environment the oil spill effectively destroyed.

The settlement still has people asking the same question though—will it be enough?

At $20.8 billion, this settlement is the largest the U.S. has every reached with a single organization, and it’s one the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch calls, ‘a strong and fitting response to the worst environmental disaster in American history’.

But what do others think in the wake of this monumental agreement?

Marine scientist Donald Boesch believes that this settlement is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, giving everyone insight and hope that there will finally be some kind of resolution to the destruction that befell the Gulf of Mexico and its ecosystem.

That is just one opinion, however, as many aren’t as optimistic.

There is still worry about where this money will go, and how much of it will actually go towards restoration efforts. With the failure of the government and partner organizations to effectively respond to oil spills and their restoration efforts in the past—as with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989—many fear that the BP Deepwater Horizon spill will suffer the same fate.

And if necessary steps aren’t taken, we could see the complete deterioration of the ecosystem in this and surrounding areas. Even now, the Mississippi Delta has begun to deteriorate as a result of pollution—the 2010 oil spill only working to speed up the deterioration process.

Long-term impacts from the spill still affect animals and organisms today. Populations in the area are slowly increasing, but in the six months after the spill first occurred, 8,000 birds, turtles, and marine mammals were found dead.

Dolphins in the area have fallen ill, and almost half of the dolphins investigated in a 2011 study were not expected to survive.

Sea Turtles have been found to grow at five times their normal rates, and hundreds are washing up on beaches unable to make it back into the ocean.

Fewer and fewer fish have been found in the area, with populations of fish, plant-based organisms, and ocean mammals greatly diminished. And with populations decreasing, there is a major imbalance in the food web. If even one link in the food chain is disrupted, every other organism in that food chain is affected. Animals begin to move out of the area, if they manage to survive at all.

These are just a few of the impacts felt years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but they follow trends that date back to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster.

And if officials in the U.S. aren’t careful and diligent—if they don’t put every penny into restoring and protecting the vulnerable ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico—these trends will only continue, affecting not only the Gulf of Mexico, but the world’s oceans as a whole for years to come.