www.whyville.net Aug 29, 2010 Weekly Issue

Science Specialist

The Gulf Oil Disaster: Part 2

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The oil has finally stopped, but the fight for marine wildlife is not over. Millions of gallons of oil and thousands of gallons of chemicals to clean up the oil (called chemical dispersants) are still in the Gulf of Mexico. What effect will the oil and chemicals have on coral reefs? Coral reefs are important ecosystems, and Oceans5 said it best in his "Why We Should Save the Reef" article when he said, "Reefs feed us, protect us, and are there for all to learn about and enjoy". Do the reefs stand a chance against the oil?

I was happy to read in the "Gulf Oil Disaster: Part 1" BBS that many Whyvillians want more information about the oil spill and its effects on marine life. For "Gulf Oil Disaster: Part 2", I sat down with Dr. R?diger Bieler after his trip from the Caribbean to discover more about the reefs in Florida and how the oil will impact them.

MarkEOL: Thank you for speaking with me Dr. Bieler! Can you tell us about yourself and what you study?

Dr. R?diger Bieler: Sure! I am a research curator in The Field Museum's Department of Zoology. My special field of study includes marine mollusks (animals like snails and slugs). The Florida Keys is one region that I study, and I am also a scientist for the Center for Coral Reef Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in the Florida Keys.

MarkEOL: Is there any oil in the Florida reefs now?

Dr. R?diger Bieler: The oil has not yet reached the Florida reefs -- I am saying "not yet" because it is only a matter of time before the oil reaches the reefs. The ocean currents will carry the oil to Florida. The National Center for Atmospheric Research have made several models to see what will happen when the oil joins the Gulf?s strong loop current. The models predict that the oil will reach Florida and the Atlantic. You can view these models for yourself at: (http://www2.ucar.edu/news/ocean-currents-likely-to-carry-oil-spill-along-atlantic-coast

MarkEOL: How will the oil impact the reefs in Florida?

Dr. R?diger Bieler: It is not easy to predict what the exact impact the oil (and the chemical dispersants) will have in the long run. In large amounts it will choke any filter-feeding organism (such as clams, sponges, and tiny shrimp-like animals), and have a huge impact on the reef food web. In smaller amounts, it is not clear how it will impact ocean life. The timing of the oil reaching the reefs is very important. For example, if the oil reaches the coral when they spawn and reproduce (which only happens once a year) the impact of the oil would be very serious.

MarkEOL: What can people do to stop the spread of oil and help coral reefs?

Dr. R?diger Bieler: Locally, people can help in beach cleanups if oil reaches the coast. If you are not near the coast, it helps to spread the word about the impact of the spill. This is a massive industrial accident, and we need to support research to understand how it affects coastal marine wildlife. We cannot protect or help an ecosystem if we do not understand it. For example, we need to know more about the tiny organisms that live in the Gulf, and how the oil will affect them. Support your local natural history museum, nature organization, or environmental group! Every action, no matter how small can help!

MarkEOL: Thank you for your time Dr. Bieler. I hope that Whyvillians across the country will help stop this environmental disaster - by cleaning up a beach or talking about it with their parents or friends. No action is too small!

Dr. R?diger Bieler, Curator and Head of Invertebrates at The Field Museum in Chicago

Author's Note:Sources: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100805-gulf-oil-spill-cement-static-kill-bp-science-environment/


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