Campus News

Skidaway scientists study long-term effects of Gulf oil spill

As the Gulf Coast continues to recover from the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists from UGA’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are continuing to look into the long-term effects of the spill on coastal marine life. A team led by Richard Lee, a Skidaway Institute professor, recently completed preliminary work into the effect dispersed and emulsified oil has on blue crabs and shrimp. The project includes vital information from fishermen and crabbers in the Gulf.

Lee and his research associate Karrie Bulski are exposing blue crabs and grass shrimp to emulsified oil in sediment and then determining how this oil affects molting, or periodic shedding that allows shrimp and crabs to grow. To test this, emulsified oil is added onto sediment inside the tanks that house the crabs. The crabs also are fed squid that has been contaminated by the emulsified oil. Preliminary research results show egg and embryo production was reduced in female grass shrimp exposed to food and sediment infused with emulsified oil.

Working with Anna Walker, a pathologist at the Mercer University School of Medicine, they found that blue crabs exposed to emulsified oil showed changes in their blood cells, especially cells related to the immune system. Lee and his team speculate that the immune systems of those crabs may be compromised, making the crabs more susceptible to infection and disease.

According to Lee, one issue facing the Gulf Coast communities is rumors about seafood safety are often much worse than reality. In Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, where a lot of the oil came ashore, there is a perception that people should not eat the seafood there. But, there is very little evidence of any contamination in commercial shellfish.

Lee said those who attended oil spill workshops were passionate, involved and worried about their communities.

“They are worried that the oil will change things, but most agree that the ecology was not destroyed and it’s not the end of a way of living,” he said. “It’s my opinion that the Gulf will recover.”

Lee and his team plan to complete their project and publish their results early next year.

The study is funded through a $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The team includes Chung from the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology at the University of Maryland, Harriet Perry and Christopher Snyder from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, and Walke at the Mercer University School of Medicine.