Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year 8-10 Research Grants (RFP-VI)

Project Overview

A Comprehensive Petrochemical Vulnerability Index for Improved Decision-Making and Marine Biodiversity Risk Assessment in the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem

Principal Investigator
Arizona State University
Member Institutions
Arizona State University, Baylor University, Old Dominion University


A fundamental understanding of how multiple stressors interact and impact shared living marine resources in the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem (LME), which encompasses United States (U.S.), Mexican and Cuban waters, is critical to the development of effective management, restoration, recovery, and mitigation initiatives. The marine resource management community has recognized the need for improved comprehensive species information, including species-specific risk assessments to petrochemical exposure, in order to more effectively select and prioritize species, habitats, and ecosystems for improved management, restoration and recovery. Similarly, oil and gas industries operating in the Gulf of Mexico recognize the need to maintain sustainable business practices and reduce their impact on marine biodiversity, while also protecting their return on investment and managing business risk. Therefore, the primary goalof this project is to provide a variety of resource managers (representing government, non-profit, corporate and others) with freely-available, comprehensive, species-specific data and risk assessments for more than 2,000 marine species present in the Gulf of Mexico LME. These peer-reviewed datasets will include data and information on each species extinction risk, updated spatial distribution in the Gulf, and petrochemical vulnerability ranking for more than 2,000 marine species present in the Gulf of Mexico LME, including all known vertebrates and complete clades of select invertebrate groups. Public availability of these comprehensive species assessments and associated datasets will transform decision-making capacities for marine resource management, restoration, mitigation and recovery across the entire Gulf, and ultimately, will most effectively improve marine resource conservation outcomes.


This proposed project has three research objectives: 1) To systematically collect and synthesize all relevant toxicological data, life history traits, and extinction risk assessments for 2,000 marine species, based on comprehensive synthesis of species data from the GoMRI GRIIDC database, extensive literature review, and consultation with expert scientists. Based on data collected for each species’ distribution, population status, life history, habitat, ecology, impact of major threats and conservation measures, all data will be evaluated and peer-reviewed in a workshop setting to determine each species current population status and extinction risk, expressed as an IUCN Red List Category; 2) To assign each of the 2,000 marine species a petrochemical vulnerability ranking, based on probability of petrochemical exposure and modeled trait-based sensitivity to petrochemicals and related stressors; and 3) To widely disseminate final datasets, methodologies, and products to interested stakeholders, including local and national governmental agencies, conservation organizations, academic institutions, and businesses, including the oil and gas industry.


This proposed project directly addresses GoMRI research theme iii, or more specifically the environmental effects of petrochemicals on marine habitats and marine species. In terms of scientific impact, this project will not only provide the most comprehensive and up-to-date marine species database, including updated species distribution maps, for the entire Gulf of Mexico LME, but it will develop a novel, peer-reviewed methodology to select and weight species biological and ecological traits under various probabilities of petrochemical exposure scenarios in order to systematically rank each species in terms of relative petrochemical vulnerability. As acute or chronic petrochemical toxicological data are not available for the vast majority of marine species, a trait and exposure based vulnerability ranking may be the best and only way to comprehensively determine species relative sensitivity and risk to petrochemical exposure. 


This project also provides numerous other societal impacts by strengthening institutional and international collaboration, fostering new linkages between the United States, Mexican and Cuban scientists, developing new public and K-12 outreach materials, and engaging early career professionals, graduate students and undergraduate students in international collaborative research experiences.

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