Pensacola, Florida
Thursday September 18th 2014

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Gulf Spill Autopsy


The water’s fine. Right?

“So, what’s in our water?” asked marine biologist Heather Reed.

It’s a big question following last year’s oil spill. Reed, who has monitored the Gulf since the spill occurred, presented some of her findings this week at O’Charley’s restaurant as part of the Gulf Coast Science Cafe.

“So everything’s great?” she asked, displaying images of several worse-for-the-wear specimen. “Tell that to these animals: the mullet, the sheepshead, the dolphin, the horseshoe crab.”

Reed, of Ecological Consulting Services, Inc., works for both public and private entities. Much of her work regarding the oil spill has been privately funded. In general, she has found that there was a greater effect inside the oil-spill area than outside of that area.

“Duh!” she laughed.

Reed’s work has focused on water quality, specifically looking at hydrocarbons. She’s been coming up with some differing results than those coming out of state tests.

“The tests that are done are basic state criteria,” Reed said, explaining that the government only tests for 13 out of 60 compounds.

Reed has been looking at the entire 60.

“They can’t really go outside of state criteria, but I can,” she said. “You go past the 13 levels, and the more you do you start seeing higher levels.”

Reed flashed a series of bar charts before the dinner crowd. With each chart she showed where government testing left off and her’s picked up. Most of the interesting stuff appeared to be happening higher on the graph, in something called the ‘diesel range.’

On a positive note, Reed is seeing less and less signs of the spill as time goes on.

“Is it still there? Yeah,” she said. “Is it detrimental to the level it was last year? I don’t think so.”

Earlier this year, Reed — and others, mostly within academia — began seeing lesions and signs of fin rot on fish. Red snapper were particularly effected.

“There were times when I looked at a commercial catch of a hundred fish and 10 percent would have lesions,” she said. “Of course, I didn’t have the money to test them.”

She is now seeing less sick fish. Reed attributes this to the government’s closure of areas of the Gulf to fishing; the respite gave the sicker fish the chance to succumb to the food chain.

She also said that many species of fish were retaining higher levels of hydrocarbons in their organs, as opposed to fat or muscle.

“I tell people, don’t eat organs,” Reed said. “Someone said, ‘well, what about mullet gizzards?’ I said, ‘not this year.’”