[Coral-List] Oil and Coral

Eugene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Mon May 3 13:35:06 EDT 2010

      Oil/coral follow up. Some of you have questioned the value of my 
simple experiments. I agree with the criticism but unfortunately that 
is about all I had to go on. For more than 40 years I have been 
trying to convince some chemical/biologists and/or responsible 
agencies or universities to do the needed long-term research. I ran 
into a brick wall every time. Biological effects of crude oil is not 
a popular subject and those who do it will likely be called 
biostitutes by their fellow biologists. Oil related research is a no 
no for a number of reasons. 1) Obtaining a permit to do realistic 
in-the-field research in the US is nearly impossible. I have tried to 
aid many researchers (including those who did the experiments in 
Panama described in the IPIECA report).
Every request that I am aware of was turned down. In-field research 
(including laboratory research) is especially needed to test the 
efficiency of various biodegrading bacteria as well as dispersants 
etc. 2) Apparently there is fear that any study that does not live up 
to preconceived results could be a career ending move for the 
researcher. Those emotions are clearly exhibited by responses on the 
coral-list. Oil research creates poor public relations for the agency 
or organization that does the study. 3) Who will fund the research? 
If the American Petroleum Institute funds the research (as they did 
in the early 1970s) results would lack credibility.  I did my simple 
experiments on my Keys vacation because it could not be done 
officially and also, I was convinced oil would kill coral. The 
results was a major surprise but made me feel better about the 2 days 
I spent in the witness box. In the early 1970s no government agency 
would do fish-related research around offshore rigs. Everyone knew 
rigs were great places to fish so agencies stayed away, because 
senator Scoop Jackson was attempting to nationalize the industry. No 
agency such as NOAA's (MUST), Man Under the Sea Technology, group 
would go near a rig and MMS did not yet exist. MMS presently does 
support fish and coral studies beneath oil rigs, and, 4) Unless the 
results of toxicity studies proved high toxicity what journal would 
publish the results? Lack of journals, other than grey literature, 
and number 2 above, is why much of the research funded by API back 
then was never published. The IPIECA report drew heavily on API 
funded research, most of which was performed by Drs. Jack Anderson 
and Jerry Neff at Texas A&M University.
      One of the major findings of the A&M API funded research was 
that crude oil is relatively nontoxic compared to processed oils. 
Crude after all is a product of nature rather than a man-made 
chemical. Witness the existence of highly diverse chemosynthetic 
communities scattered throughout the deep gulf where there are 
natural seeps. Incidentally those chemosynthetic communities are 
protected from drilling by MMS. Take away their source of food and 
they die.
      There is a table in the IPIECA report that lists many studies 
done with diesel, and lubricating oils which are the most toxic. 
Those who fear oil companies will be quick to note who sponsored the 
IPIECA report. I checked the NOAA website provided by Walter Goldberg 
but was unable to find anything about oil and corals. I did learn 
that they are celebrating their 200th anniversary. If they are 200 
years old I must be 300. I sure would  like to see the research done 
on "crude" performed by Cervino. Where is it published? Same journal 
as rapid wasting disease?
      The Gulf of Elat study is well known and often quoted. Coral 
mortality there was limited to coals exposed on the reef flat down 
wind not only of an oil refinery (what kind of oil?) but also a 
fertilizer factory and terminal.
      So yes, I agree my little test is not the last word on oil 
toxicity but as I said earlier, the past is the best teacher. 
Consider what happened during WW II. Maybe this present disaster will 
stimulate the much needed research. We have enough well-meaning 
resource managers, we need more objective science. Gene


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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