Scientists "very concerned" about oil impacting marine life - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Scientists "very concerned" about oil impacting marine life

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - Scientists from the Gulf Coast Research Lab just returned from a 12 day trip to study "Bluefin Tuna" larvae.

Those fish spawn in and around the Gulf of Mexico "loop current".  And researchers fear this year's spawn may be hurt by the oil spill.

The researchers saw plenty of oil tainted water as they traveled along the edge of the main spill area. And the scientists say they're "very concerned" about its impact on marine life.

Although their main sampling area for this study was more than 300 miles offshore, they also took the opportunity to do some sampling around the oil spill.

Scientists aboard the Tommy Munro focused on the tiny larvae of the giant blue fin tuna. Jim Franks holds up a small glass tube, and visitors could clearly see the tiny fish, each about one eighth of an inch long.

"This was not a trip designed to specifically sample in the oil spill. But since the spill occurred at this time, which couldn't have been at a more critical time for the Blue Fin Tuna, we felt obligated to do some sampling around that spill area to see what those samples would look like," Franks explained.

"And we actually sampled under the areas with small globules of oil. But I think the scope really hits you when you're in a boat going ten miles an hour and you're riding through it for hours. The vast scope of it really, it's depressing," said Dr. Bruce Comyns.

"We're pulling a very fine mesh net, about a third of a millimeter mesh slowly behind the boat," Dr. Comyns explained, as he showed visitors the net.

Each drag of the net will likely produce a cup of plankton.

"We wash it into a bucket, take it into the lab, strain it into a sieve, then we take the plankton out and preserve it in ethanol," said Dr. Comyns.

Scientists are concerned that many of the tiny fish will likely travel into areas already polluted with oil or an oil-dispersant mixture.

"We feel the way the currents are flowing, some of these will be exposed to these sheens and perhaps to these particles of oil that we saw floating offshore," said Franks.

"Not only blue fin tuna, but we have bill fishes, a lot of the larger pelagic fishes are on the edge of this region to spawn. So, it's not just the blue fin tuna, there's a lot of fish that might be affected," said Dr. Comyns.

And the concern is not just for the young fish swimming into the oily mess; that oil is also polluting the food supply.

Researchers found "sargasm grass" covered with oil, areas that typically serve as "nurseries" for young fish.

"We saw that impacted, of course, by oil. A lot of the oil was just all kind of fused in among that sargasm grass which of course is not good at all," says Franks.

"All I can say is there's a good chance that huge numbers of them will be impacted," said Dr. Comyns.

The scientists say it was "depressing and disgusting" to travel through even the edge of the oil mess that's offshore.

Jim Franks says they got plenty of "good samples" of tuna larvae and the study of those larvae may yield some valuable information as researchers look at how marine life is impacted by the oil spill

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