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How Marine Life was Impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

First Posted: Apr 19, 2015 05:47 PM EDT
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Scientists have taken a closer look at the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Now, they've determined what effect it had on marine organisms such as oysters, conch, shrimp, corals and marine plankton.

The researchers conducted several studies to determine the impact of the oil spill. They found, in particular, that chemical dispersants may have affected the marine ecosystem far more than suspected at first.

Chemical dispersants don't remove oil from water. However, they do accelerate its natural dispersion. The use of dispersants can decrease the impact of oil to shorelines and surface-dwelling organisms that live in the water column. Unfortunately, rather than dispersing, the dispersed oil ended up in bottom sediments, where it remained.

"Oil releases may affect marine organisms in a number of ways including physically, through toxic effects known to produce carcinogenic and mutagenic effects by modifying behavior, or through modifications in their natural habitats," said Susan Laramore, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened to coincide with the spring spawning season for a number of aquatic organisms, including shrimp and the eastern oyster."

The researchers conducted studies to assess fertilization success, development, survival and swimming behavior of oysters. In the end, the scientists found that oysters were drastically impacted and actually have no come back to pre-spill levels. Diminished populations of oysters don't just affect the fishing industry, but also the coastal food web and associated ecosystems.

"Although the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may not have long-term consequences especially for short-lived species, the effects of oil and dispersant on lower trophic food sources impacted fisheries recruitment in the short-term, and longer term impacts are likely to be seen in some species and ecosystems," said Laramore.

The findings are published in the Journal of Shellfish Research.

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