The area affected by the spill was home to 8,332 species - many of which were decimated in the aftermath of the spill and its cleanup efforts. Last year - three years after the spill - the area was still being described as an "ecosystem in crisis."
The exact amount of the fine has yet to be set, but the new ruling could mean a boost in efforts to help affected wildlife in the area. If BP does eventually pay up, it's likely that a large portion of the fines will go toward sorely-needed wildlife and coastal restoration. Under the RESTORE Act, passed by Congress in 2012, 80 percent of fines paid by BP and other parties are invested directly into areas affected by the disaster.
"This means that BP will finally be forced to pay what it owes to fix what it broke," said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold in an emailed statement. "Is is a long-awaited step toward healing and recovery for the Gulf Coast, its birds and its people. BP said it was above the law; Judge Barbier said the law applies to everyone, even multinational giants."
Jeff Pierce, a litigation fellow with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, noted that while this is a big step forward, the battle for animals facing the threat of pollution is far from won. He told The Dodo in an email:
In theory all wildlife, whether aquatic or terrestrial, should benefit from any increased vigilance that results from industry's now heightened awareness that a federal judge may someday scrutinize their oversights and mishandling that lead to environmental catastrophe. Nonetheless, wildlife – including those in the Gulf of Mexico – remain under constant threat from otherwise lawful industrial practices ... even a welcome finding like Judge Barbier's ruling addresses only a fraction of the problem wildlife face.