Scientists: BP Oil Spill Contaminated Vital Gulf Marine Food Web
August 18, 2010
(ChattahBox)—The oil from the BP oil disaster is still lurking in the Gulf causing harm to our environment. Researchers back from a scientific expedition to the Gulf of Mexico are sounding the alarm on the toxicity of vital spawning grounds for fish, finding oil in the waters and sediment, which is affecting the base of the marine food chain. Not only did they find clouds of oil in the underwater DeSoto Canyon, but also ‘a constellation’ of oil droplets, resulting from BP’s use of chemical dispersants. This report points to the marine food chain in the Gulf being affected for years to come.
According to the LA Times, the scientists from the University of South Florida, found that the phytoplankton was in poor health from the toxic waters, leading them to conclude the “base of the food web” was compromised:
“So, indeed, the waters have a level of toxicity that needs to be recognized, and I think these were some of the first indicators that the base of the food web — the bacteria and the phytoplankton — may be affected,” said David Hollander, chief scientist on a research vessel that just returned from a 10-day trip in the gulf.” [...]
In those locations, phytoplankton was repressed, or “feeling a toxic response to those waters,” added Hollander.
So far, just lower organisms have been contaminated with the oil from BP’s spill, according to Hollander, but that may change, as the toxicity travels up the food chain to humans:
“The idea that this could have an impact on the food web and on the biological system is certainly a reality,” says Hollander. “This is not addressing the question of turtles or of sharks or of birds, which are at the top of the food web, but rather the organisms that are at the base of the food web.” That means that oil ingested by plankton will likely be eaten by fish – and eventually consumed by land-based animals.
Compromised phytoplankton can also lead to a toxic dead zone, killing marine life in the oxygen-deprived waters.
NASA describes phytoplankton’s essential role in the marine food web:
“Phytoplankton are the foundation of the aquatic food web, the primary producers, feeding everything from microscopic, animal-like zooplankton to multi-ton whales. Small fish and invertebrates also graze on the plant-like organisms, and then those smaller animals are eaten by bigger ones.”
And alarmingly, global warming is already adversely affecting the survival of phytoplankton. Combined with the BP oil disaster, which dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, before the gushing well was was recently capped, vital phytoplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are being doubly hit.
NASA points out that even small changes to marine phytoplankton can have a devastating effect on commercial fisheries and marine life:
“Because phytoplankton are so crucial to ocean biology and climate, any change in their productivity could have a significant influence on biodiversity, fisheries and the human food supply, and the pace of global warming.”
This is not good news for the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf region.
“The DeSoto Canyon is one of the major spawning grounds for fish species off the Florida Coast. USF marine microbiologist John Paul says their findings should concern fishermen. “Hopefully, this will be a short-term blip,” Paul says, “and not a long-term disaster in commercial and recreational fishing.”
Photo Source: NASA