Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - Louisiana State University

Project Overview

Collection of Near-Shore Sediment Samples Associated with Potential Fishery Impacts

Principal Investigator
Louisiana State University
Department of Environmental Sciences


There is considerable public apprehension concerning the possibility of buried and sunken Macondo oil remaining from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred during the summer of 2010.  The public apprehension is rooted in the fear of the unknown, more specifically, how oil that was unaccounted for can impact the Gulf ecosystem and important commercial and recreational marine fisheries.  The Unified Incident Command collected and analyzed thousands of near-shore sediment and snare sentential samples in 2010, and the vast majority of these samples did not contain Macondo oil.  However, Plaquemines Parish recreational fishery captains and other parish citizens and officials continue to believe numerous near shore areas are contaminated with undetected sunken oil in addition to the oil that had been documented by the SCAT process as being stranded on coastal beaches and marshes.
On June 8 and 9th of 2011, oil was observed in an area near the mouth of the Mississippi River just south of the Baptiste Collette Pass.  This spill was originally reported and assumed to be the resurfacing of buried Macondo oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Even though the June 8/9 spill turned out to be a non-match to Macondo oil, as determined by the PI, this situation highlights the degree of public apprehension concerning the potential for additional impacts from residual oil in coastal Louisiana environments.  It is critical that every effort be made to alleviate this continued anxiety of coastal residents and Parish officials by insuring that no buried oil remains and that there are no new sources of Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil available to cause additional coastal impacts.  These efforts must be carried out quickly so that potentially contaminated areas can be sampled while memories are still fresh as to the possible location of oil residues.  Additionally, every effort should be made to work with parish citizens to alleviate their concerns associated with sunken oil and its impacts on the marine fisheries.

Captain Shane Mayfield, a former student in the PI's Environmental Chemistry class at LSU, has considerable knowledge of the Unified Incident Command's sampling program, and he does not think that it was as comprehensive as it needed to be.  Further, most of his charterboat colleagues have the same opinion.  There are many commercial and charter fishermen, as well as recreational fishermen and local boat owners, who question why there has not been more bottom sampling in near-shore or inshore areas, particularly in locations that were impacted by oil or areas adjacent to these locations.  They do not think that their "concerns have been addressed appropriately" and many of these people are flat out mad about it.  

We are proposing that the LSU team hire Captain Shane Mayfield to assist them in collecting numerous sediment and selected biota samples from any and all areas of concern to local fisherman during the summer fishing season of July, August, and September 2011.  The goal is to use this local and respected charterboat captain and his local charterboat colleagues to find areas of local concern, and take the LSU sampling and field observation team to these locations for well documented and quality controlled collection of archival samples with their appropriate environmental data and information.
We are proposing a comprehensive bottom sampling plan carried out with the help of Captain Mayfield and selective colleagues.  This plan would not only obtain valuable scientific data, but it would also generate significant public information that could be used to promote Louisiana fishing, and it would help eliminate doubts about Louisiana seafood quality.  With assistance from Captain Mayfield and selected charterboat colleagues, LSU scientists will collect sediment core and bottom drag samples from all areas suspected of having bottom oil contamination in coastal Plaquemines parish and neighboring near-shore waters.  These samples will be examined upon collection, photographed, and have appropriate water quality information collected (e.g. salinity, DO, temp).  The samples will then be archived for later analysis of petroleum hydrocarbons (saturated, aromatics biomarkers) and hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms.  Opportunistic filter feeding marine organisms (clams, oysters, barnacles) will also be collected for archiving.  Sample collection will occur for three months (July, August, September) weather permitting. Samples will be archived at LSU for subsequent analyses.

In addition to collecting samples with the help of local community, we also propose to collect sediment core samples systematically along a transect of an existing cruise, the Pelican Hypoxia Research cruise, that will transverse through the GOM hypoxia zone west of the Rivers mouth all the way out to open water GOM (>1000m water depth).  This is in the general direction of the dispersed oil plume carried away from the well-head by deep Gulf currents.

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.