[Coral-List] FW:  Does oil stick to coral mucus

Brylske at aol.com Brylske at aol.com
Fri Aug 18 12:29:41 EDT 2006

Sea Frontiers has long been out of print. Is there any way to get article 
reprints or back issues?


In a message dated 8/18/06 11:12:50 AM, Bprecht at pbsj.com writes:

> To All:
> In 1989 Gene wrote a great article for the magazine "Sea Frontiers"
> entitled "What is really killing the corals?" (35:72-81)
> There are some great photos of the experiment he describes below. This
> article is defintely a must read.
> Cheers,
> Bill
> -----Original Message-----
> From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Gene Shinn
> Sent: Friday, August 18, 2006 10:59 AM
> To: "To:"@coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Subject: [Coral-List] Does oil stick to coral mucus
> Chris Hind wrote: Does anyone happen to know how well exposed coral at
> low tide can repel oil with its mucus? I will attempt an answer that may
> be more than you wanted to know.
>       First, I know you are aware that this is an emotion-loaded subject
> conjuring up visions of oil coated seabirds and dead fish.
> Many will take issue with my response to this question but I think some
> of this ancient history is in order. In the 1970s I wrote the section on
> spills and corals reefs in the API oil spill handbook. It basically said
> do not do anything. My chapter was based on some simple experiments and
> observations conducted on the effects of crude oil in the summer of
> 1972. I did the experiment because I was being sent to Australia to be a
> witness representing the industry at the Great Barrier Reef hearings
> that took place in the wake of the crown of thorns episode. I felt a
> little uneasy because no one knew what oil did to corals in those days.
> The 2 year + series of hearings focused on the potential effects of oil
> drilling on or near coral reefs. This two years before I left the
> industry in 1974. to do coral reef geological research in Florida, and
> elsewhere. I continue to monitor the literature on oil spills. To my
> dismay little has been learned or attempted to be learned regarding the
> effects of untreated crude oil on corals. There has been some research
> on oil toxicity using the more toxic refined products, such as diesel
> oil. The needed studies on toxicity of various crude oilsm however, has
> to my knowledge never been conducted and I remain confident that no
> government agency will ever fund the controlled experimental work that
> is needed. Oil companies will not conduct the work because they pretty
> much know the results already and also that their results would not have
> credibility. In addition, young biologists will not become involved with
> the subject due mainly to peer pressure and problems with tenure. It
> would be a career-ending move for a young biologist. With all that said
> here is some information that may provide some guidance. I can
> confidently state that crude oil does not stick to coral mucus even if
> you can get the floating oil on the coral in the first place.
>       Before going to Australia to present my previously published data
> on Acropora growth rates I obtained 5-gallons of Louisiana crude and
> headed for the Florida Keys on holiday. I already knew that the Great
> barrier reef corals are exposed to the air at low tide for up to 1.5
> hours. That is when corals can come in direct contact with floating oil.
> In my simple experiments Acropora cervicornis was attached to rods
> driven into the bottom off Key Largo. Clear 5-gallon-sized plastic bags
> were placed over the corals and tied to the rod below the coral
> colonies. One bag contained about one gallon of crude oil and half of
> the coral colony protruded into the oil that floated at the top of the
> bag. In another bag the coral was only in contact with the water below
> the oil that floated at the top of the attached bag. Another was a
> control with no oil. Yet another experiment involved small Montastrea sp
> heads placed under 2 Lucite plastic domes. One was in direct contact
> with the oil under the dome and another was a control. Both experiments
> lasted 1.5 hrs to simulate the exposure time on the Australian barrier
> reef. A.
> cervicornis immediately retracted its polyps in the bags containing
> crude. When I removed the bags it was obvious that the oil would not
> adhere to the coral. That was the first surprise. The second was that,
> 14 days later I returned to the site and found the corals alive. They
> appeared healthy, the polyps were extended but I had no way of knowing
> their true condition. Montastrea also did not appear to be harmed.
> Photos of the experiment were published in a Sea Frontiers article in
> 1989. With this information in hand I went to the Barrier Reef Hearings
> feeling a little more relieved and confident. At the hearing I read
> testimony about an Australian who had had done a related experiment.
> Using a back-pack sprayer this person had repeatedly sprayed a 10 by 10
> m area of the reef at low tide. His results were similar to mine. I
> believe these simple, mainly anecdotal, experiments answer the basic
> question of whether or not oil sticks to coral mucus.
>      Later after leaving the industry I did a similar experiment with a
> student off Miami. We totally immersed A. cervicornis in crude for an
> hour in the laboratory and then transplanted the colonies out to the
> reef. They remained alive for several weeks until the student decided
> this was not the result she was seeking.
>      Over the years it has been interesting to note that when there is a
> crude oil spill on or near a coral reef the media predicts disaster yet
> none have reported death of corals or reef fish. I think because the
> media never presents the facts the public, including many coral reef
> researchers, have become very polarized. What we do know for sure is
> that the damaging effects occur when the oil reaches shore, often due
> mainly to the clean-up methods.
>      The most devastating spill, (reported in Science) was the one near
> Goleta Point in Panama in the early 1980s mentioned by John Cubit. This
> was a case of onshore tanks spilling into the ocean and passing over the
> Goleta Point coral reef adjacent to the Smithsonian Institution field
> station. That oil was treated with dispersants, according to my
> information, and yes, corals began to die on the adjacent reef, (I don't
> recall that  there were intertidal corals on this reef when I visited
> the reef in 1974). Many respected scientists were witness to this event
> and Minerals Management Service funded the subsequent study published in
> Science. In retrospect what we know now, but did not know then, was that
> this was also the beginning of the Caribbean-wide coral demise that
> continues today. The years
> 1983-1984 (also el Nino years) were the most devastating for Acropora
> corals throughout the Caribbean including those on reefs around sparsely
> populated islands.
>      If one conducted the same simple exposure experiments I did in
> 1972 under todays conditions it is very likely the even the controls
> would die. Something changed radically beginning in the late 1970s and
> began peaking in the early 1980s. Bleaching appeared in the late 1980s.
> Ongoing coral diseases whose source has not been scientifically
> determine has been well documented and continues even around Caribbean
> islands isolated from the usual pollutants. Corals, even in isolated
> places like Dry Tortugas have declined and lack their former resilience.
> E. A. Shinn
> --
> No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> University of South Florida
> Marine Science Center (room 204)
> 140 Seventh Avenue South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 553-1158----------------------------------
> -----------------------------------
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