Once again this week, NPR was subtly poking us all with a stick—“Hey, remember that oil spill that happened last year?” I love NPR.
This story really hit home, because I’ve been personally dealing with many of the frustrations mentioned in this report. There really is no large-scale coordination of the continuing scientific effort in the Gulf. As the story duly notes, “The real gumshoe work is just beginning”
I’ve consistently lamented about our difficulty obtaining critical post-spill sediment samples (despite thousands being collected). NPR also points this out—most government research (i.e. NOAA’s 393920202 samples) is unfortunately restrained by the ‘oil pollution act’. This means that ongoing research is kept secret due to pending litigation. Everything is kept tightly under wraps, and us academics are completely in the dark—we have no idea what they are doing (specific tests, hypotheses, or questions), and because of this secrecy there may be gaping holes and serious gaps in oil spill research. Right now, there is no peer review from the wider community.
This also affects the public’s perception of the lasting impacts—if people don’t have information, then it automatically feeds their fears. Seafood safety is one prime example.
Then there’s the money. Or rather, there isn’t the money. Only $50 million of BP’s promised $500 million in research money has been doled out; a scientific board has been set up to distribute the remaining $450 million, but it seems like they’re still writing ethical guidelines and drafting up an application process. Which means, probably another year before any scientists will be able to use money from this pot.
But timing is critical, and right now the timing couldn’t be worse. We’re coming close to spring in the Gulf, where life will bloom and the lingering effects of oil may suddenly manifest.
[Christoper D’Elia from LSU notes that] “…one of the big issues that I’m concerned about is what is going to happen to the food chains — the food webs off the coast of Louisiana in particular — where the oiling was the heaviest.”
Scientists such as Don Boesch, who sits on the official Oil Spill Commission…says the slow start has already compromised the research effort “because we had much more limited effort to go out and actually describe the effects of the spill and track the oil when it was actually coming out of the bottom of the gulf.”
RAPID response grants from the National Science Foundation only last a year. Ours expires in July. Our research is nowhere near finished, and I can’t afford to work for free. I need to go on another sampling trip to investigate potential seasonal variation in communities, but grant money is already tight.
I don’t posess an undying love for the rats of the sea, but this headline definitely caught my attention.
There’s been a slew of dolphin deaths lately—67 washed ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Most of these were infants—stillborn and premature calves, as well as some that apparently died shortly after birth.
We’ll have to wait for conclusive causes of death—tests are currently being carried out—but the timing of these deaths is interesting. The dead calves would have been conceived directly prior to the BP spill, gestating and developing as the oil was gushing.
Did the mothers eat oil-contaminated fish that poisoned their young? Did the calves fall prey to an infectious disease? Was it just a particularly cold winter? Was there a toxic algal bloom?
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of CSI: Gulf of Mexico
For those of you on the edge of your seats, you’ll now have to wait a little while longer to find out what really went wrong with the infamous blowout preventer—July now, instead of April. But it seems we will at least get a sneak peek of the findings in April when the joint Coast Guard-Ocean Energy Management and Regulation panel issues a preliminary statement.