[Coral-List] coral and crude oil

Todd Barber reefball at reefball.com
Sun May 2 17:29:40 EDT 2010

Hi Eugene,

The oil on it's way to your coast is not "light sweet crude" like most
other oil from the Gulf of Mexico. . While most of the oil drilled off
Louisiana is a lighter crude, this isn't. It's a heavier blend because
it comes from deep under the ocean surface.  It also emulsifies easily
(mixes with water) which it is doing as it is coming up from 5000 feet


Todd R Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
3305 Edwards Court
Greenville, NC 27858
252-353-9094 (Direct)
941-720-7549 (Cell & Goggle Voice)
toddbarber Skype

www,reefball.org (Reef Ball Foundation)
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www.reefbeach.com (Reefs for Beach Erosion)
www.eternalreefs.com (Memorial Reefs)
www.reefball.com (Reef Ball Foundation)

On Sun, May 2, 2010 at 11:39 AM, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:
> Dear listers here is some information re the effects of crude oil on
> coral that may be of use at this crucial time.
>     With the developing oil disaster in the Gulf I thought a few
> comments regarding the effects of crude oil on coral reefs might be
> healthful. Some of you know my background in the industry and work
> with API committees before 1974. In 1972 I was sent to Australia to
> testify before the Great Barrier Reef Commission regarding effects of
> drilling on coral reefs. I was concerned so in preparation for the
> trip I obtained 5 gallons of Louisiana sweet crude (the kind
> presently blowing out off the Mississippi Delta) and traveled to the
> Keys to do some personal in-situ experimenting. Corals on the Barrier
> reef flats (including various species of staghorn coral) are exposed
> to the air at low tide each day for more than one hour. Since that is
> the length of time that corals there are likely to be exposed
> directly to floating oil I performed some crude experiments where I
> exposed Florida staghorn and star coral directly to oil for one and a
> half hours. In these experiments I placed large clear plastic bags
> containing crude oil over live staghorn that was fixed to rods driven
> into the bottom. At the same time I placed plastic domes (skylights)
> containing oil over the tops of small star coral heads for the same
> length of time. The experiment was conducted in about 15 ft of water
> off Tavernier Key. What I found, and described pictorially in the
> 1989 issue of Sea Frontiers, was truly surprising. Corals retracted
> their polyps but the oil would not stick to the coral because of its
> mucus. When I removed the oil there was no oil on the coral. Fifteen
> days later the corals were living and appeared normal. While at the
> hearings in Australia I learned that another researcher wearing a
> backpack garden sprayer had sprayed crude oil on the same exposed
> corals at low tide every day for several days. His results were
> similar to mine.
>     After joining the USGS a Masters candidate approached me to do
> similar experiments for a thesis project. In the laboratory at Fisher
> Island Station we totally submerged ten fragments of living Acropora
> cervicornis in Louisiana crude for 2 hrs. We then transported them
> (in sea water) to the reef line off Virginia Key, Florida and placed
> them in concrete holders in 20 ft of water. When we returned a week
> later the corals were alive and appeared healthy. The disappointed
> student decided not to continue that project.
>      In yet another experiment students of Tom Bright from Texas A
> and M University conducted an oil experiment on Carysfort reef
> lighthouse off Key Largo. A 20-gallon aquarium was filled with
> aerated seawater. The aquarium contained two butterfly fish and some
> live A. cervicornis branches. A layer of crude oil about one inch
> thick was then floated over the coral and fish. Butterfly fish are
> known to feed on live polyps so the purpose of the experiment was to
> see if various fractions of the oil would contaminate the coral and
> then be transferred to the flesh of the fish. The fish did pick at
> the coral and paid not attention to the overlying layer of crude oil.
> After 24 hrs the fish was sacrificed and taken back to Texas A and M
> to be analyzed for oil components. I never heard the results and
> nothing was published.  I simply documented it all on 16 mm movie
> film.
>     The lesson from this and other research was that if and when the
> oil from this spill reaches the Florida Keys the damage will be to
> limited mainly to mangrove shoreline habitats, sea birds, and
> beaches. Dive boat operations will likely be affected but it will not
> harm corals or reef fish.
>     The crude, which will likely be in the form of tar balls, will
> simply float over the areas of living corals. Under no circumstances
> should dispersants be used on an oil slick in the vicinity of a coral
> reef. Dispersants soluabilize the oil and allow it dissolve in the
> water and come in direct contact with coral and fish. In addition,
> oil containment booms should not be deployed in the vicinity of coral
> reefs because of possible entanglement and physical destruction. The
> history of oil spills is that clean up efforts, such as use of live
> steam, solvents, and digging, often do more damage than the oil.
>     The best teacher is history. The Keys and the east coast of the
> US were often awash in oil from torpedoed tankers during WWII and
> there have been numerous tanker spills and oil from bilge cleaning
> over the past 50 years with no documented impact to Florida's coral
> reefs. An exception is the disastrous onshore oil tank spill at
> Goleta Point, Panama in the early 1980s. The spill was at the
> landward end of a lagoon that opened out to a coral reef being
> studied by personnel at the adjacent Smithsonian Institution Marine
> Laboratory. Unfortunately surfactants were added to break up and
> soluabilize the oil in an enclosed area with poor circulation with
> disastrous results. Many reef flat organisms and corals were killed.
> Richard Dodge conducted extensive research on the effects of that
> spill which is well documented.
>     In the present case by the time the spilled oil reaches the
> Florida Keys (weeks) the more toxic aromatics components will have
> evaporated and bacterial breakdown will have reduced the oil to a
> less toxic gooey mess that can foul beaches, mangroves, and affect
> sea birds. It will not harm corals or reef fish, Hopefully this
> knowledge will relieve some tension and fear for the reefs as the
> floating oil nears Florida's coral reefs. Nevertheless be prepared
> for one heck of a mess at the shoreline before this is all over. Lets
> hope it is over soon. 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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