Scientists survey marine life in advance of possible oil damage - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Scientists survey marine life in advance of possible oil damage

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - South Mississippi scientists are busy this weekend collecting samples of water, sediment and marine life. Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab said the data they gather this weekend will help them determine the extent of any environmental damage from the oil. 

Researchers left Saturday morning for Horn Island, on a boat with a lot of empty jars. They made three stops along the island's north shore. When they returned Saturday evening, their jars were filled with samples from the sea.

"We went out to collect bottom-dwelling organisms that occupy the shoreline environments," said Dr. Chet Rakocinski with the Gulf Coast Research Lab. "We're specifically taking samples of the small invertebrate organisms within the sediments."

If the oil slick reaches Mississippi's coast, they'll use the samples, labeled "Horizon Oil Spill 2010" to provide a record of the way things were exactly before the toxic mess rolled ashore.  They'll help scientists measure the damage caused by the oil and the underwater recovery process that is sure to follow.

"It's very important to know baseline data," said Dr. Bill Hawkins, Director of the Gulf Coast Research Lab. "Without that you cannot assess impact or recovery should this film reach these waters."

Both Rakocinski and Hawkins said there's a lot at stake, not just for the small creatures in the containers, but an entire eco-system. 

"There are a lot of toxic components in the oil that are going to kill a lot of the sensitive organisms out there," Rakocinski said. "Those organisms in turn provide the food base for the things that we as people depend on, larger organisms like fish or things like that."

And with oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, they said there's no way to predict the extent of the damage.

"It could do a lot of things; we don't know. There are so many other factors," said Hawkins.  "It won't be a uniform event, some areas will be highly impacted, and others, hopefully will be far less impacted."

Gulf Coast Research Lab officials said they're in contact with other agencies to determine their exact response if the oil slick comes here.

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