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Last week a member of Protect our Waters attended a lecture by Dr. Ian MacDonald, PhD, Professor of Oceanography from Florida State University, regarding the current state of the Gulf.  The synopsis below is a must-read for Gulf residents interested in how the BP oil blowout is affecting our waters.

Hi All,   I went to a lecture by Ian MacDonald, PhD last night at the Ringling.  He is a Professor of Oceanography at Florida State so has been studying the Gulf in its natural state as well as after the spill (which he calls the discharge–which implies that the players (BP, etc) have more responsibility as well as being a more accurate term). 

 He and his team have collected all  kinds of data.  His main point, which he states in the program is:  “The BP oil discharge was at least 10,000 times more concentrated in space and time, and about twelve times greater in magnitude than the total annual release from natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico”. Natural seeps are very dilute and some organisms have adapted to them.

He showed slides of “fresh” and weathered oil slicks, noting that the hardened old stuff will not dissipate.  He also noted that although bacteria can break down a certain amount of oil, the process is dependent on oxygen in the water and that gets used up long before the job is done. He says“– over 50% of the total discharge–is a highly durable material that resists further dissipation.  Much of it is now buried in marine and coastal sediments.  There is scant evidence for bacterial degradation of this material prior to burial.”

He says they have discovered thick sediments of a strange material on the seafloor in which they cannot detect oil, but speculates that it could be the result of enormous amounts of dead plankton.  We all know it could also be some dispersant compound formed from reactions with other ingredients in the sea and never tested therefore, unrecognizable.
Other interesting points:

  • Oil goes to the surface without use of dispersants, and may have been much easier to clean up if, instead, we had availed ourselves of technologies other countries have  – and which were offered.
  • Because BP, Govt and NOAA well under-estimated how much oil was actually flowing out of the well, they used the wrong strategies to collect it.
  • He claims significant numbers of large sea animals who live near  the surface, lots of coral and inestimable amounts of plankton were killed.
  • Right after the disaster, Florida scientists from (usually competing) universities all over the state agreed to use their scientific resources as a team.  He mentioned that NOAA had no interest in their information.
  • There’s an organization called NERDA which documents harm to resources and tries to recover the loss.  It is difficult to prove  the value of plankton or other  things in a court of law (said Ian), but this organization has a literal definition like:  If you kill a pelican, you have to take measures to replace it with another pelican.
  • He was very impressed with the Graham / Richardson Report just released, but not very optimistic that any entity will be overseeing the oil drilling situation and safety thereof in the Gulf in the near future.


Protect Our Waters is working with Representative Doug Holder on legislation to prevent the abuse and misapplication of toxic dispersants in any future spills; and its place, the implementation of a massive, coordinated skimming and suctioning program. We will keep you posted on the progress of this and other bills, and alert you when you can take action to protect our waters. 

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