World and Nation

Gulf may have avoided direst predictions after spill

NEW ORLEANS — Marsh grasses matted by oil are still a common sight on the gulf coast here, but so are green shoots springing up beneath them.

In nearby bird colonies, carcasses are still being discovered, but they number in the thousands, not the tens of thousands that have died in other oil spills.

And at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the zone of severely oxygen-depleted water that forms every summer has reappeared, but its size does not seem to have been affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill.

How much damage resulted from almost 5 million barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico is still being toted up. It will be some time before the government releases its formal assessment of the effects — one that will define the scope of environmental restoration required by BP and other companies.

Separately, scientists are arguing heatedly about how fast a large plume of dispersed oil more than a half-mile below the surface of the gulf is breaking down and how great a threat it poses to sea life.

Yet as the weeks pass, evidence is increasing that through a combination of luck (a fortunate shift in ocean currents that kept much of the oil away from shore) and ecological circumstance (the relatively warm waters that increased the breakdown rate of the oil), the gulf region appears to have escaped the direst predictions of the spring.