Environment: Study shows how Deepwater Horizon oil spill causes heart defects in Gulf of Mexico fish

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A recreational angler starts processing a tuna from the Gulf of Mexico at a port in Venice, Louisiana. A new study shows how crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill causes heart defects in embryonic fish. bberwyn photo.

‘This spill occurred in prime bluefin spawning habitats, and the new evidence indicates a compromising effect of oil on the physiology and morphology of bluefin embryos and larvae’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a series of post-spill studies in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s clear that the massive amount of crude that spewed into the water from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had an enormous impact on marine life, and a new research effort led by federal scientists and academic researchers may confirm some of the worst fears.

Exposure to the oil, even at very low concentrations, resulted in severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tunas, commercially important species, according to the findings published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, show how the largest marine oil spill in United States history may have affected tunas and other species that spawned in oiled offshore habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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Study documents ‘heartbreak’ after Gulf oilspill

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook, who owned and operated Ma's Po Boy restaurant on Park Avenue, cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River, just off Venice, Louisiana.

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana. bberwyn photo.

Exposure to PAHs disrupts basic cellular function of heart muscles

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists immediately began documenting impacts to natural resources, finding dead corals on the seafloor, sick dolphins in Barataria Bay and remnant oil in the splash zone along Florida beaches.

Even low levels of oil pollution can damage the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. Scientists have known of this effect for some time, but the underlying mechanism has remained elusive.

But recent research by scientists with NOAA and Stanford University, shows how oil-derived chemicals disrupt the normal functioning of the heart muscle cells of fish. The findings, published in the Feb. 14 issue of Science, describe how toxic oil-based chemicals disrupt cardiac function in young bluefin and yellowfin tuna by blocking ion channels in their heart muscle cells. Continue reading

Sea-bottom ecosystems hit by 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster could take decades to recover

Study finds extensive loss of biodiversity

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.

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.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It will probably take decades for the sea-bottom ecosystem to recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers reported this week in the journal PLoS One, after finding that the spill affected sea-bottom biodiversity across 57 square miles around the wellhead, with the most severe impacts in a nine-square mile area.

Previous studies had also shown that the oil spill had damaging effects on deep-sea corals miles from the blown out Macondo Well. The failed well leaked an estimated 160 million gallons of oil into the sea in the spring and summer of 2010. An early survey of nine sites more than 12 miles from the Macondo Well found deep-water coral communities unharmed. But a followup dive by a remotely operated submarine about six miles southwest of the spill discovered numerous coral communities covered in a brown flocculent material and showing signs of tissue damage.

“The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep-sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically,” said Jeff Baguley,  University of Nevada, Reno expert on small invertebrates livING in both marine and fresh water. “Nematode worms have become the dominant species at sites we sampled that were impacted by the oil. So though the overall number of meiofauna may not have changed much, it’s that we’ve lost the incredible biodiversity.” Continue reading

Environment: Researchers still tracking oil leaks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

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A massive slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill spreads across the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Oil ‘fingerprinting’ technique shows the oil is likely from the wreckage of the sunken drill rig

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Chemical fingerprints show that oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico are probably from pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Both the Macondo well and natural oil seeps common to the Gulf of Mexico were confidently ruled out by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology.

The oil sheens were first reported to the United States Coast Guard by BP in mid-September 2012, raising public concern that the Macondo well, which was capped in July 2010, might be leaking.

“It was important to determine where the oil was coming from because of the environmental and legal concerns around these sheens. First, the public needed to be certain the leak was not coming from the Macondo well, but beyond that we needed to know the source of these sheens and how much oil is supplying them so we could define the magnitude of the problem,” said WHOI chemist Chris Reddy. Continue reading

Environment: New report takes a broader look the ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Wider ecosystem services must be considered in damage assessments

Satellite view deepwater horizon oil spill

BP oil from the Deepwater Horizon drill rig spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The total impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can’t be quantified without accounting for how the spill affected ecosystem services provided by the Gulf. That includes trying to quantify the cost of increased storm damage due to wetlands losses, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

But a lack of baseline data about ecological conditions, as well as  an incomplete understanding of complex ecosystem interactions make establishing the full scope of damage difficult.

Capturing the entire range of impacts will also require more data on human and economic factors. The report emphasizes that many services may have enormous value despite being difficult to measure, and that such services should be given adequate consideration in evaluating restoration options. Continue reading

Agreement protects Gulf of Mexico marine mammals

Feds, oil companies agree to some limits on seismic airgun testing

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Marine mammals like coastal bottlenose dolphins will get some relief from seismic airgun blasting in the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Whales, dophins and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will enjoy a little more peace and quiet under a new agreement that limits seismic airgun testing.

Under the deal, oil companies and the federal government will make some biologically important areas off-limits to testing. The agreement will also expand protection to additional at-risk species, and require the use of listening detection devices to better ensure surveys do not injure endangered sperm whales. Continue reading

Morning photo: Waves

Seashore thrills …

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A gentle Gulf of Mexico breaker rolls ashore under a setting sun.

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Living in the small side-house to the barn-like fog signal building at Pt. Montara, California gave me a deep appreciation of ocean waves.

FRISCO — In the early 1980s I lived at the Pt. Montara Lighthouse, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. While we renovated the Victorian lighthouse keeper’s quarters, I stayed in the watchroom of the fog signal building, just 10 yards from the edge of a bluff overlooking a rocky headland that juts far into the Pacific. As it turned out, the first winter I lived there was a big El Niño year. Endless storms crashed ashore from November through May, coating my oceanfront window with salt spray and, at times, making the cliffs shake. It’s hard to describe the size and scope of these breakers, but if you’ve seen the movie “Chasing Mavericks,” it’ll give you an idea of the 30- to 40-foot walls of water that were commonplace that year. I already was a big fan of waves before that, but the experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the power of the sea. I don’t have any digital images of that winter, but I probably do have some old slides tucked away in a shoebox. I was tempted to try and find them, but I’ll save that for another time. Continue reading

Tropical Storm Andrea forms in the Gulf of Mexico

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Tropical Storm Andrea is heading north in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida, Southeast to feel impacts of first tropical system

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Just a few days into hurricane season, the first tropical storm of the year has formed in the western Gulf of Mexico and could make landfall in Florida Thursday afternoon or evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Storm Andrea is generating winds up to 40 mph and will deliver 3 to 6 inches of rain across much of the Florida Peninsula, with tropical storm warning already hoisted from Boca Grande north to the Ochlocknee River. A storm surge of 2 to 4 feet is expected from Tampa Bay north to Apalachicola, with a storm surge of 1 to 2 feet expected south of Tampa Bay, according to the first NHC advisory on the system. Continue reading

Environment: Endangered sea turtles’ feeding grounds overlap with degraded areas in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo: Kim Bassos-Hull, Mote Marine Laboratory

A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Photo courtesy Kim Bassos-Hull, Mote Marine Laboratory.

Federal study may help conservation efforts

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While Kemp’s ridley sea turtles mostly nest in protected areas, they may still be subject to threats in their key feeding grounds, according to National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

After tracking the turtles for 13 years, biologists found that the favored feeding grounds of the endangered turtles coincide with some Gulf of Mexico waters that are subject to oil spills, extensive commercial fishing and oxygen depletion.

The study is the first to offer details on foraging locations and migration patterns of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, considered to be the most endangered hard shell sea turtle in the world. Continue reading

Environment: Study finds lingering impacts from Gulf oi spill

 UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Credit: Pat Sullivan


UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Photo courtesy Pat Sullivan.

Fish embryos exposed to oil show developmental abnormalities

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Small fish living in coastal Louisiana waters were sickened by crude oil toxicity for more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to researchers from Lousiana, California and South Carolina.

Oil collected from the spill in 2011 continues to show toxic effects in the lab, suggesting there’s a risk of multi-generational exposure, according to Andrew Whitehead, a University of California, Davis, scientist who co-authored the study of killifish, considered an indicator species for coastal ecosystems.

Killifish embryos exposed to sediments from oiled locations in 2010 and 2011 show developmental abnormalities, including heart defects, delayed hatching and reduced hatching success. Continue reading

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