OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded five years ago, that set in motion the worst oil spill in American history. More than 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf over three months.
That also set in motion a team of scientists and student researchers from the Gulf Coast Research Lab. In the half decade since the spill, they have conducted hundreds of missions looking at the environmental and marine damage caused by the spill.
In the lab rooms at the GCRL, tables are covered with marine life, and tanks of fish are studied constantly. Since the spill, GCRL has been front and center.
"Our scientists have been among those who have made really significant findings and have been on the site regularly," said Dr. Jessie Kastler, with the Marine Education Center.
Where are those significant findings? Dr. Frank Hernandez an oceanographer has an answer.
"The damage varies depending on where you're looking. So in the deep sea, there is still much oil down there. Researchers are uncovering oil all the time and evidence of oil. In the Louisiana marshes, for example, there has been a lot of impact. Other areas, not so much," Hernandez said.
Researchers know why that oil is dangerous, even five years after the spill.
"The oil itself is toxic and has toxic compounds in it. On top of that, it is essentially organic material that can be used as food," Marine Science professor Dr. Scott Milroy explained.
In recent days, the Gulf Coast Research Lab and the University of Southern Mississippi received a new tool in the tool box as they continue to research the Gulf oil spill. It's a 100 foot long research vessel called the Point Sur.
"It will allow us to get further offshore, have extended trips out into the Gulf of Mexico, carry 14 to 18 scientists, and really deploy a suite of very high tech gear to answer some of these questions," Hernandez said.
Getting those answers will take a long time, according to Milroy.
"You, literally, could have decades long kind of after effects from this oil spill, if you're thinking about all of the organisms that were affected."
If it does take that long, these scientists will be there every step of the way.
Much of the funding for the Gulf Coast Research Lab's missions into the Gulf has come from BP itself.