Still more questions than answers about the ecological effects of oil dispersants used in Gulf of Mexico

Scientists say more study needed before the next big spill

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches the Alabama coastline. Courtesy U.S. Navy.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches the Alabama coastline. Courtesy U.S. Navy.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Fallout from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still rippling through the Gulf of Mexico — and through the scientific community studying the effects of the largest oil spill on record.

Along with 210 million gallons of crude oil that leaked from BP’s failed deep-sea well, cleanup workers applied 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersant intended to break down the oil and prevent it from reaching the shoreline in massive quantities. Continue reading

Trouble ahead for the Great Barrier Reef?

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Ancient climate clues warn about impacts of modern human activities

Staff Report

FRISCO — Turbulent seas, loaded with sediment and nutrients at the end of the last ice age likely set back growth of the Great Barrier Reef by centuries, according to scientists who recently took a close look at the reef’s biological history.

The findings are important because those environmental conditions are similar to what the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing today as a result of human activities, including the controversial coal port dredging that’s seen as a huge threat to Australia’s cherished ocean landmark. Continue reading

Environment: Top predatory fish needed to maintain balance in coral reef ecosystems

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Australian study shows how recreational and commercial fishing affect reef health

Staff Report

FRISCO —Biologists have long known that removing key predators from the food chain has top-down impacts on ecosystems, and a new study by Australian researchers shows the same holds true for coral reefs. Fishing, they say, is having a big impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The loss of species like coral trout and snappers has altered the balance and structure of the coral reef ecosystem, raising the number of herbivorous and small prey fish, the scientists concluded after comparing fish abundance in protected parts of the reef with other areas. Continue reading

Study says dispersants deadlier to coral than oil

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

As early as 2012, scientists documented how oil and oil dispersants damaged communities of deep sea coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

‘It doesn’t take as much dispersant to kill a coral as it does oil’

Staff Report

FRISCO — New laboratory studies on the use of oil dispersants during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill show that the dispersant is more toxic to coldwater corals than the spilled oil.

The findings, published near the fifth anniversary of the spill, may help agencies developing future strategies for applying dispersants at oil spills that are more helpful than harmful to the environment, according to the scientists from Temple University and Penn State University. Continue reading

Environment: How to save the Great Barrier Reef

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A section of the Great Barrier Reef photographed from the International Space Station.

Australian scientists offer common-sense plan to restore coral reef ecosystem

Staff Report

FRISCO — After a 40-year span when the Great Barrier Reef lost half its coral cover, and with global warming looming for the future, Australian scientists say fundamental changes are needed to protect the reef.

Better policies focusing on science, protection and conservation are the key, a team of leading researchers wrote this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, arguing that all the stressors on the Reef need to be reduced for it to recover. Continue reading

Climate Change: New study enables detailed projections of coral reef bleaching

More information equals more conservation options

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Bleached white corals in the Cheeca Rocks area of Florida. Photo via NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After issuing a general warning about the potential for widespread coral reef bleaching this year, federal scientists now say they have the ability to make more detailed projections about the timing and geographic distribution of such events.

The concerns this summer focus around emerging El Niño conditions, which could overheat parts of the world’s oceans that have already been hovering at near-record temperatures. Most coral reefs in  the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, but if scientists can pinpoint the timing, it gives them more conservation options. Continue reading

Protected zones pay off for Great Barrier Reef

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A NASA Earth Observatory view of the Great Barrier Reef.

Study shows rebound of coral trout in no-fishing zones

Staff Report

FRISCO — Long-term monitoring in the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem shows that marine protection pays off in a big way, as scientists said that coral trout biomass has more than doubled since the 1980s in the green zones.

The trout in the protected reserves are bigger and more abundant than those in fished “blue zones” of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and they are also better able to cope with cyclone damage, according to a long-term study published today in Current Biology. Similar approaches may be beneficial for coral reefs around the world, the researcher concluded. Continue reading

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