A recent article in the Press-Register of Mobile, AL, has highlighted some work by a group of Dauphin Island Sea Lab researchers. Now, we all know of the many negative consequences of the oil spill, and they have been highlighted on numerous blogs and websites (see some of those here and here). Now I first read about increases in baby fish in Gulf of Mexico estuaries back in September. Researchers had been monitoring juvenile fish abundances for a number of years, and when it came time to conduct those surveys this summer, after the spill, it appeared as though everything was normal. Some species even were more abundant than normal. So it seemed as though GoM fish larvae had dodged a bullet from the oil spill.
Now, just this week, the DISL crew is at it again. Trawl surveys at a series of sites have yielded significant increases in fish abundance post-spill. This doesn’t mean that the oil benefited the fish. Rather, the researchers are suggesting it was the forced closure of some of the richest Gulf fishing grounds that led to these dramatic increases, strong evidence for the dramatic impacts fishing pressure has on the marine environment. And unfortunately, this unexpected result may make it difficult to truly assess the impacts of the Deep Horizon spill for quite some time.
“There has been an awful lot of debate about longlining, gill netting, commercial fishing, recreational fishing, about how the ocean has been restructured by man,” Valentine said. “This was the first time we’ve ever seen such a large scale cessation of fishing.”
He said that the fishing closure appears to have demonstrated for the first time “how resilient the ocean really is if widespread management measures are applied.”
However, the GoM is hardly in the clear, and all the researchers involved are quick to point out that this increase isn’t necessarily good news. Many fish and fish larvae were likely lost in the spill, and it will taking longer to discern these effects with the dramatic impact the fishing closure had on the data. Either way, it is an interesting story, and certainly one worth thinking about.
Maybe I was expecting a battle royal of sorts. I mean, I had seen Dr James Ammerman of NY SeaGrant take the government position on the Gulf oil spill, painting a rather rosey picture of whats happening down there. And I have read Carl Safina’s blog posts, seen him on TED talks and watched him on Colbert talking about the devastation of this ecological disaster. So you might imagine how excited I was to learn that both men, affiliated with Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, would be on a panel discussing the oil spill. I imagined the gloves would be off in a no-holds barred slugfest between a government scientists and a staunch conservationist.
I was telling everyone to go. I predicted a lot of yelling.
I was disappointed. I guess I should say I wasn’t disappointed by the news. It was encouraging to hear the consensus agreement that it could have been much, much worse. Despite not knowing the exact impact due to lingering effects for a considerable amount of time, everyone on the panel seemed to agree that the oil dissipated quickly, the scenes of oiled animals occurred in a very small portion of the Gulf, and oil only reached a very very small percentage of the marsh lands. No shouting. No fisticuffs between Ammerman and Safina, or any of the other members on the panel for that matter.
And, while they all stopped short of calling the spill the worst anthropogenic ecological disaster in US history, they did raise some very alarming issues. Basically, the panelists agreed that of greater concern for the Gulf ecosystem is the increasing dead zone and the loss of salt marshes. While the oil spill was an acute occurrence that will likely have some lingering effects, both the dead zone and marsh losses are Gulf impacts that are occurring over a long timescale and will continue to have considerable long term effects. In the question-answer period, Safina pointed out that the Gulf of Mexico has a large amount of natural resilience, as long as the ecological factory is still there – but that factory is the salt marsh, an important habitat which is vital for many species during various portions of their life histories. It is this reason that the dramatic loss of wetlands should be of much greater concern than any one oil spill. Without marshes, many species wouldn’t be able to recover.
And yes, while this might seem a little sympathetic toward the oil companies, the truth if that this is a 20-30 billion dollar industry in the Gulf and as long as people continue to drive and use petroleum products, the industry won’t go anywhere. We are all contributing to that problem. This event should have strengthened our resolve for clean energy, but as a NATION, we need to encourage a change in policy. That just doesn’t seem to be happening. And while I don’t like to get political on here, with the expected results of the coming election, we will be farther away from a clean energy nation despite the events in the Gulf, and our ever increasing pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is why its important for everyone to vote, even if you have lost faith in your party or aren’t enthusiastic about any candidates, remaining on the sidelines could have very serious repercussions.
There is some speculation about the FDA’s standards for Gulf seafood. Granted, I know the government wants to do everything it can to restore the economy to this oil-ravaged region. According to some recent posts, the FDA may be allowing higher PAH levels in shrimp, crabs and oysters sold for consumption, because they assume that most people in the US don’t eat very much seafood in a month, and that the majority eat significantly more finfish than shellfish. It appears as though the new concentrations for BaPe for shellfish in the Gulf is 3x higher than the levels allowed in other recent oil spills. In addition, some lab testing not done by the FDA suggest that the levels of PAH in the shellfish is much higher than this allowable limit. Of course, this calls to questions differences in methods for testing, but there might be some cause for concern here. We all heard about the sniff test method.
It speaks volumes when even the fisherman are questioning the reopening of the Gulf fisheries. Sure, we all like a shrimp cocktail now and then, but is it possible the FDA, under pressure from state and federal government, lowered safety standards to try to bring some revenue back into this part of the country? I’d like to think things don’t work that way, but I don’t know. I will look for a more reputable source for this news, but when I saw this, I thought it might be worth mentioning.
I am a marine biologist that is currently attending graduate school at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Marine Sciences Research Center, of Stony Brook University, New York. I am very interested in marine ecology and have been focusing my studies on bay scallop interactions with their habitats. I plan to investigate various anthropogenic impacts on bay scallop populations for my PhD dissertation. This blog will highlight the details of my graduate research, from bay scallop-eelgrass interactions as previously mentioned, to alternative habitats for scallops, such as Codium, to trophic cascades, and more. Enjoy!
Is a useful experimental tool to mimic natural seagrass while controlling many factors, such as density, canopy height, leaf number, which are usually confounding in natural eelgrass meadows.
Scallops seem to love this stuff!