Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 29 Issue 03

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Volume 29, No. 3
Pages 150 - 159

Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Coastal Marshes and Associated Organisms

Nancy N. Rabalais R. Eugene Turner
Article Abstract

Oil gushed from the Macondo Mississippi Canyon 252 well into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank. A concern, after widespread dispersant use offshore on surface waters and at the wellhead, was that the oil/dispersant mixture would reach valuable, and vulnerable, coastal ecosystems. Standardized oil spill response methodology identified 1,773 km of the 7,058 km of surveyed shoreline as oiled, with 1,075 km oiled in Louisiana. This paper synthesizes key results of published research on the oiling effects on coastal habitats and their inhabitants from microbes to vertebrates. There were immediate negative impacts in the moderately to heavily oiled marshes, and on the resident fish and invertebrates. Recovery occurred in many areas within the two years following the oiling and continues, but permanent damage from heavily oiled marshes resulted in eroded shorelines. Organisms, including microbial communities, invertebrates, and vertebrates, were diminished by acute and chronic hydrocarbon exposure. However, the inherent variability in populations and levels of exposure, compounded with multiple stressors, often masked what were expected, predictable impacts. The effects are expected to continue to some degree with legacy hydrocarbons, or the marsh ecosystem will reach a new baseline condition in heavily damaged areas. 


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