Conservation research: Recovery of salt marshes after the BP oil spill

by Evan Byrnes, RJD intern

Oil spill damage has been a hot area of interest, especially since the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010. This is because oil spills can affect flora and fauna for generations, especially in coastal wetlands where decomposition is slow due to the low energy and anoxic environment. Coastal wetlands are very important habitats. They are commonly used for reproduction by various organisms, provide protection from shoreline erosion, regulate gasses and nutrients, support fishery and ecotourism industries, and much more.

Figure 1 from McCall and Pennings 2012, showing “typical conditions at oiled sites”

Coastal wetlands are a predominant habitat in the Gulf of Mexico, yet over 3000 production platforms are active in the Gulf. This brings about major concern for potential damage to these crucial habitats. Therefore many laboratory studies have been completed studying the damage done by oil spills. However, laboratory studies have not proved pertinent because they cannot duplicate the effect of natural wave and tidal action and normally have short durations. For these reasons, McCall and Pennings took it upon themselves to conduct a field study following the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill studying the effect with natural conditions and over a longer period of time.

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