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NSU scientists receive BP money to research oil spill's impact

DANIA BEACH, FL Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is using part of a $10 million block grant from BP to conduct research on the Gulf Oil Spill's impact on the marine ecosystem, officials announced this week.

NSU's Oceanographic Center (OC) is one of several educational institutions in Florida selected to work on 27 research projects that are investigating the oil's impact on the Gulf's ecosystem and marine life. The projects were selected by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO), a consortium of 20 educational institutions throughout the state.

OC researchers are collaborating with other universities on four projects. These projects are among the 27 selected by FIO from the 233 proposals its members submitted. OC researchers Jose Lopez, Ph.D., who is also an associate professor; and David Kerstetter, Ph.D., who is a research scientist; are principal investigators on two of the projects.

Two other OC researchers are co-investigators on two additional projects. The researchers are Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., professor and director of the OC's Guy Harvey Research Institute; and Jim Thomas, Ph.D., OC professor.

"Given the magnitude and seriousness of the Deepwater Horizon spill, I'm very pleased that NSU researchers have had successful proposals funded by the BP block grant," said Richard E. Dodge, Ph.D. the OC's dean and executive director of NSU's National Coral Reef Institute.

Dodge added: "We are making concerted efforts to better understand potential and actual impacts to our economically and biologically valuable marine ecosystems, such that we can be better prepared when spills reoccur."

The NSU research projects include:

1) Assessing the impacts of oil exposure to marine life in the deep sea areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Particular attention will be given to sharks and scavengers as top and bottom feeders to gage the effects.

2) Periodic evaluation of offshore fish communities to understand the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill on their feeding habits and amount of contaminants in their tissue.

3) Measuring the current oil spill's impact on marine sponge and microbe communities. This study will use sophisticated DNA and microbial analysis to determine results.

4) Analysis of the coral-sponge communities of the West Florida shelf to establish current conditions and to evaluate changes as a result of the spill.

"Actions taken to abate the April 20 oil spill, such as using chemical dispersants to breakdown the oil, may have effectively submerged or dispersed the oil into Gulf of Mexico waters," said Lopez, who is studying sponges and microbe communities. "Therefore, filter feeding sponges can possibly behave as good barometers to detect the oil's impact on marine environments over time. "

Kerstetter, who is studying offshore fish communities, said his study is critical because almost nothing is known about the feeding ecology of this important group of fishes. Additionally, not much is known about how subtle changes in the availability of smaller prey species, which could be caused by the oil spill, might affect larger fishes that are a major part of Florida's fisheries.


Contact: Ken Ma
Nova Southeastern University

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