New LSU research suggests that oil gushing from BP’s failed Macondo Well damaged gills and has potentially long-term impacts to reproduction
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Louisiana State University biologists said this week that oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has damaged the gills of marsh-dwelling fish along the Gulf Coast The research also suggests that exposure to the oil could impair fish reproduction, meaning that the probability of impact on populations is significant.
The study by Fernando Galvez and Andrew Whitehead was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and is being published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The gill tissues, important for maintaining critical body functions, appeared damaged and had altered protein expression coincident with oil exposure. The effects persisted for long after the visible oil disappeared from the marsh surface. Controlled exposures in laboratory settings of developing embryos to field-collected waters induced similar cellular responses.
“This is of concern because early life-stages of many organisms are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of oil and because marsh contamination occurred during the spawning season of many important species,” Whitehead said. “Though the fish may be ‘safe to eat’ based on low chemical burdens in their tissues, that doesn’t mean that the fish are healthy or that the fish are capable of reproducing normally,” he added.
A major take-home message of the more than two decades of research following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was that sub-lethal biological effects, especially those associated with reproduction, were most predictive of the long-term population-level impacts still apparent in many species such as herring and salmon.
The current LSU study shows that early signals of similar kinds of sub-lethal effects are starting to emerge in ecologically important species following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.