Houston Conference Highlights Scientific Research On Deepwater Oil Spill Damage

Nearly five years after the spill, scientific work continues on the long-term effects.


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Open-water oil burn done in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill. The goal is to reduce the amount of oil on the water and minimizes the adverse effect of the oil on the environment. May 6, 2010 in response to the . Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard


The biggest oil spill ever was in Kuwait during the destruction of the First Gulf War. Some of the oil spilled on land and some into the Gulf.   

But the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 was the biggest spill ever just in the ocean.

“There are impacts at all levels of the ecosystem, whether it’s the corals or the whales or the commercially viable fish stocks,” said Rick Spinrad, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Steven Murawski, a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist, is a professor at the University of South Florida. His research team focuses on fish populations.

“One thing that we found is that some species take up the contaminants from oil and they don’t get rid of them very quickly and some do get rid of them relatively quickly, like red snapper,” he said.

But other fish, like tilefish, burrow in sediments where oil has settled. So they can keep re-contaminating themselves over and over, Murawski said.

“There’s many products in oil. And many of them are toxic and carcinogenic. So these issues play out over time,” he added. “(It’s) not like: ‘Do they die or do they survive?’ It’s a much more mixed thing, where you track these things over time to see what the outcomes actually are.”

And the effects of the spill will vary across the Gulf of Mexico. For example, scientists have noticed fewer baby red snappers in the eastern Gulf. But in the western Gulf, the baby snapper population is fine, Murawski said. It’s not yet clear if that’s because of the oil, or something else.



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