The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the United States. At first the disaster seemed far away from Minnesota, but it hit a lot closer to home since some Minnesota-origin birds were wintering in the Gulf during the time of the spill.  

Approximately 800 loons died as a direct result of the oil spill. What impact did the millions of gallons of oil, and the chemical dispersant used to break up the oil following the spill, have on the loons that didn’t die?

That is exactly what Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the nongame wildlife program at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was determined to find out.  

From 2011 – 2017, the DNR received $650,000 from the Lottery-funded Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to assess the short-term and long-term impact of the BP Oil Spill on Minnesota’s loons and pelicans—the two species that researchers determined were most affected by the oil spill.

Minnesota was the first northern state to step forward and assess damages of the oil spill. “The Trust Fund money allowed us to learn things that we otherwise would never have known,” said Henderson, who noted that there were two big payoffs from the research:

  1. By using geolocators and satellite imagery, researchers were able to confirm that Minnesota loons were right in the bullseye of the contamination of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  2. An analysis of Minnesota loons’ blood and feathers documented the presence of oil contaminates.

“This research, that was all done scientifically for the first time, made the connection between Minnesota loons and pelicans and the BP oil spill possible,” explained Henderson. The data collected is being used for a federal lawsuit filed against BP Oil by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for damages to Minnesota’s loon’s and pelicans—and could lead to a $40 million payout for loon conservation.

“We are now on the verge of getting a settlement for the first three years of conservation work that could total as much as $6-$7 million,” said Henderson. “If they are happy with the work that we’re doing, we could receive upwards of $40 million over a span of 15 years.”

The remediation funds would be used for a variety of loon conservation efforts, including shoreline protection, and to educate anglers on the importance of using non-toxic fishing tackle, which is the leading cause of loon mortality in Minnesota. Henderson says, “the ultimate goal is getting individuals involved.” Here’s how you can play your part for loon conservation:

Did you know a portion of every dollar played helps preserve, restore and protect Minnesota’s environment in every county across the State? To learn more about how Lottery proceeds benefit Minnesota, visit: