Recent discoveries in samples taken from the Gulf Coast’s white sands have shown that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill affected more than just the animals visible to humans.
Auburn University’s Molette Biology Laboratory for Environmental and Climate Change has performed studies that show microscopic organisms in the Gulf ’s sand underwent dramatic shifts in their environment after the oil spill.
The communities of organisms affected are not only responsible for providing nutrients to sediment and the foundation of the sand, but also are a vital part of the of the food chain in their environment.
Ken Halanych, professor of biological sciences, co-wrote the study and has been studying the effects from the oil spill since it began in 2010.
“We’ve been looking at the smaller organisms that live between sand grains,” Halanych said. “The larger organisms can leave contaminated areas, but the smaller organisms can’t get up and swim away so we’ve been trying to see how the oil has impacted them.”
According to the Molette Biology Lab’s study, the diversity of organisms in the affected microscopic communities is vast. Bacteria, nematodes, copepods, protists and fungi were all found in the samples taken.
The Department of Geology and Geography are also involved in research concerning the oil spill. Dr. Ming-Kuo Lee, professor of hydrogeology and a team of graduate students found that oil contamination is not limited to surface water.
Instead, elevated organic carbon contents settle into the sediment long after the oil contaminated surface water had evaporated.
Beach towns and resorts on the Gulf Coast are highly dependent on the seafood industry and have been identified as the best places to find fresh fish and shrimp in the South.
Since the oil spill, some locals have abandoned the thought of eating food from the Gulf and are encouraging others to do the same.
Carmen Potts, an organic produce farmer, once owned a family-run organic seafood restaurant in a popular beach town on the Gulf Coast.
After the oil spill, Potts had no choice but to close the restaurant when the number of tourists plummeted in 2010.
According to Potts, she can’t blame people for not wanting to visit and eat the seafood caught from the Gulf of Mexico.
“I haven’t eaten a single fish or shrimp from the Gulf since the oil spill,” Potts said. “People from here should know that we have no idea how contaminated the food could be.”
“I don’t want to find out 30 years down the road that the seafood everyone keeps eating has gotten them sick, but I’m not taking the risk,” Potts said. “My family and I refuse to eat it anymore until we find out more.”
Unfortunately, there’s no clear evidence that the seafood from the Gulf is toxic or safe to eat.
Halanych and Lee’s studies did not focus on contamination of shrimp and fish, so if there is some hidden toxin in the seafood, it still remains unknown.