RAPID: Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon crude oil spill on the diversity of macroalgae and macrocrustaceans inhabiting deepwater hard banks in the NW, NE and SE Gulf of Mexico.  NSF DEB-1045690.  Suzanne Fredericq and Darryl Felder, Co-PIs.

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Video taken on December 4, 2010: light crude oil found on nodules!

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The laboratories of Suzanne Fredericq and Darryl Felder in the Biology Department at UL Lafayette have completed the first 5-day leg of the NSF-funded dredging cruise offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama (Dec 2-6, 2010). The algal diversity in all places we dredged was either extremely low or non-existent

The video shows a dredged collection from ~55 m depth being hauled on board the R/V Pelican on Dec. 4, 2010 at Ewing Bank 2.  Watch the nodules - normally covered by fleshy seaweeds at this very location - for the most part devoid of any algae. Watch Darryl Felder yelling when the dredge comes up that he smells oil.  We all smelled it very strongly. Watch some light crude oil on our fingers when touching some of the nodules. The disturbing fact is that Ewing Bank is West of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion site

Because we wanted to make sure that the lack of seaweeds in December was not a common seasonal event as we had not collected on Ewing bank in the month of December before (we couldn’t get a vessel prior to this December date), we contacted Emma Hickerson, Researcher at NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary headquarters in Galveston, TX, and a collaborator, to ask whether she had seen great numbers of seaweeds in the FGBNMS and Sonnier Bank in her survey trip there a week or so ago. [The Flower Garden Banks, the northernmost coral reefs in the US, and Sonnier, are West to Ewing Bank]. Emma replied that the seaweed diversity seemed normal. Because Emma’s team has been conducting seasonal ROV photographic surveys in the region for decades, she looked up her in situ photos taken in October/November 2004, and reported that plenty of leafy algae were present at that time. Also in February, the true winter month in the Gulf, she emailed a photo showing in situ rhodoliths covered with algae.

Emma has already alerted NOAA’s Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Task force, and has directed an upcoming submersible survey to shift their course of direction and head first to Ewing Bank (Ewing Bank is currently under consideration to be included in the FGBNMS) to explore the oil situation further.

We bagged a bucket full of general rubble, as well as a smaller bag with the obviously contaminated nodules, and stored them in Darryl’s freezer. The material is being sent to a laboratory in order to conduct HC fingerprinting on this material.

The only place we smelled and saw oil was at Ewing Bank 2 (Fish Haven) on 12/4/10 (our number 12-4-10-4; NSFIV-13) at dredge IN: 28 05.526'N; 91.01.005'W 56 m and dredge OUT: 28 05.730N; 91 01.570W at 55.1 m depth. 

We might want to stress that without this NSF RAPID grant, no-one would have been able to smell and feel the oil as we were able to do as a result of dredging. Manned submersibles or ROVs might have overlooked the light crude oil covering the substratum.

We are now looking forward to returning to the same areas during the second leg of the RAPID expedition, April 6-11, 2011, to assess whether the marine flora has recovered or not, and if so, how.

dept. biology, university of louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette LA 70504-3601;  tel: 337/482-1291 & 482-5057