For Immediate Release: April 28, 2010
Faced with what could become the worst oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) through several State and federally funded programs of the Richard C. Shelby Center for Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management, is sending a series of cruises out to sample several critical conditions in the path of the massive oil spill threatening the central Gulf coast.
Ever since the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources funded a continuation of the Fisheries Oceanography of Coastal Alabama (FOCAL) research originally supported by ConocoPhillips in its past effort to place a LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) terminal offshore of Dauphin Island, the DISL FOCAL laboratory led by Dr. Monty Graham has broadened its baseline studies to include much of the offshore area. There is now almost 5 years of three dimensional data from the continental shelf south of Dauphin Island out to about 35 miles.
The Fisheries Ecology Program (FEP) at the Shelby Center is a project conducted in concert with the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Pascagoula, MS . Dr. Sean Powers, DISL and the University of South Alabama Marine Sciences, has almost ten years of experience working on the Exxon Valdez impacts in Alaska.
As part of these ongoing studies, and now in response to emergency situation, research vessels from DISL are out today collecting samples that will allow marine scientists to assess the age composition and spawning state of local reef fish of both commercial and recreational value. In response to the recent oil spill, they are also taking a series of water samples to be tested for hydrocarbon levels in order to establish a baseline prior to any possible spill exposure. The routine sampling of the distribution of fish eggs, larvae and other microscopic plankton over the shelf are ongoing, and efforts will be made to provide an effective assessment of any negative impact to the new crop of fish important to future harvest.
In addition, The National Park Service has asked another research unit at DISL to immediately take samples from central Gulf seagrass beds to establish the same kind of baseline information in anticipation of any exposure and ongoing impact. Over the past several years, the submerged grasses of the Grand Bay area have been determined to be some of the largest in Alabama. This is critical nursery habitat for many species of highly valued fisheries.
Dr. John Dindo, Associate Director at DISL, has begun coordinating efforts that might be necessary to deal with oiled wildlife, particularly birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and contacts with the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary Foundation are trying to re-establish oiled bird emergency response plans that have not been exercised for many years.
The effort will involve three different vessels including the R/V Alabama Discovery which has only recently put into service, replacing the R/V A.E. Verrill. According to Dr. George Crozier, Executive Director (DISL); “The capacity for DISL to provide these services is due entirely to the decisions by Governor Bob Riley and Senator Richard Shelby to establish and support such activities at the Sea Lab. Otherwise the State would have very limited ability to address this growing emergency.” Crozier emphasized that DISL will make every effort to incorporate the needs of sister agencies, state and federal, in their sampling design. Appropriate web links, contacts, and information can be found at the DISL web site: www.disl.org