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Dispersants Could've Disrupted Gulf Ecosystem, Study Says


by Mary-Devon Dupuy

Back during the Big Oozy, BP touted their use of dispersants to make the oil go away, but skeptics questioned wihether the chemicals would have lasting impacts on the Gulf's ecosystem, and the health of the people who live on the Coast. On the ecosystem front, a new study from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab indicates the skeptics were on the right track. The study, released yeterday, concluded that dispersants disturb marine food chains and ultimately do more harm than good for the Gulf.

 

Dispersants like the Corexit that was used in the Gulf have roughly the same chemical makeup of household dish soap. During the Deepwater Horizon diasaster, dispersants were sprayed directly at the head of the leaking well, in the air over the Gulf and everywhere in ebtween. They are intended to break down surface slicks and make them easier to eat for naturally occurring microbial communities. The results of the study indicate that food for microbes equates to less food for phytoplankton.

 

DISL Marine Scientist Dr. Alice Ortmann led the study with other experts in microbial and plankton ecology by measuring the flow of carbons, the “currency,” of energy exchange, between separate pieces of a larger food chain. The team observed that the addition of dispersants to a marine ecosystem caused a decrease in phytoplankton and an increase in microbes. The cycle continues upwards: phytoplankton (tiny plants) are food for zooplankton, which are food for fish. Dwindling resources for fish equate to a big red flag for seafood lovers on shore, the study says.

 

Ortmann writes, “When we added oil by itself it remained on the surface as a slick and resulted in similar conditions in the water column to what would typically occur. However, when dispersant was added, either alone or with oil, the phytoplankton decreased and were replace d by micbrobes.”

 

The study was issued along with a warning that the research on dispersants is still its infancy, but the team urged the industry not to become complacent.




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