Scientists Gather At Mote Event

USF and partners Mote, National Wildlife Federation call for attention to oil spill-threatened fisheries.


By Vickie Chachere News Manager


SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 9, 2010) – A two-day gathering of scientists considering the cascade of effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill up and down the food chain led leaders from USF’s College of Marine Science, Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Wildlife Federation to call for an independent, focused effort to study and monitor key fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The forum at Mote’s facility in Sarasota is producing some of the first policy recommendations to stem from science assessments of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A full report with a range of recommendations will be produced in January. But the key message from the group of more than 40 scientists is that the impact of the spill is far from over.

“This is an extremely important stage of the game,” said USF College of Marine Science Dean William Hogarth. “A lot of the opinion is that it (the well) is capped. It’s gone. We know that’s not true.”

USF joined with Mote and the National Wildlife Federation in the event, one of the first of its kind to bridge scientific findings with efforts to restore the Gulf and create future policy recommendations for its long-term management. Read the National Wildlife Federation’s blog from the conference here.

Unlike previous scientific conferences related to the spill designed to bring researchers together to share information, this conference specifically focused on fisheries and the sharks and predatory fish at the top of the Gulf food chain, which are economically and environmentally important to the Gulf states.

Michael Crosby, Senior Vice President for Research for Mote, said the conference was inspired by anecdotal evidence that sharks and predatory fish had fled the oil and were clustering closer to shore than before the spill. Interruptions in natural territory and feeding patterns can throw the Gulf food chain out of order, allowing some species to flourish and decimating others.

Hogarth, the former director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said another crucial species – blue fin tuna – were spawning in the area of the BP oil spill at the time the Deepwater Horizon well ruptured.  Blue fin tuna were already a species on the brink of being endangered, and given that the fish only spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea, there is grave concern about how the species might have weathered the disaster.

Mote’s Crosby said there is growing scientific evidence that the spill has had an impact on marine life up and down the food chain. However, the Gulf states lack a single, coordinated office that would compile data from academic and government researchers to create a comprehensive assessment of the spill’s impact.

Crosby said there is a need to identify necessary research and monitoring programs that could serve as early warning systems and help guide resource management. Without them, the Gulf of Mexico could face a similar scenario to Alaska’s Prince William Sound, which saw the collapse of its key herring population after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

 “Clearly this is a disaster, but it is also a wake-up call and an opportunity,” Crosby said. “We need to learn from history here. I think one of the major recommendations coming out of this is the need for a Gulf of Mexico center that will be charged with synthesis, analysis and interpretation of the disparate data sets. It needs to be a focused effort and it needs to be in the GOM region.”


John Hammond, Southeast Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the advocacy group wants future reforms in the Gulf to be based on the best science available.  While the federal government Natural Resources Damages Assessment process will gather evidence to see damages from oil company BP, that information is not being made public and can’t help guide the policy decisions that need to be made now, Hammond said.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.