Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF study: Diseased fish show dissolved oil from BP spill as far south as Sanibel

A survey of the entire Gulf Coast by University of South Florida scientists found more fish — including tilefish like this one — suffering from skin lesions in the area where the oil spill occurred than anywhere else.

Steve Murawski of USF

A survey of the entire Gulf Coast by University of South Florida scientists found more fish — including tilefish like this one — suffering from skin lesions in the area where the oil spill occurred than anywhere else.

Dissolved oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off Louisiana wafted underwater all the way down to Florida's Sanibel Island, sickening fish along the way, according to a new study from University of South Florida scientists.

An upwelling of cold water from deep in the Gulf of Mexico swept the oil up onto the continental shelf about 80 miles offshore, spreading it far from where it was spewing out of a damaged rig, the study found.

USF scientists used computer modeling to plot the path of the oil, then tied it in with diseased fish by checking their livers for signs of hydrocarbons with a similar chemical signature to Deepwater Horizon oil. The fish livers were trying to screen out the impurities but could not cope with the quantities, leading to immune system problems.

The study, published this week in a scientific journal called Deep-Sea Research II, is not good news for BP, which is battling the U.S. government and other claimants in federal court over how many billions of dollars in damages it owes for pollution caused by all the oil it spilled.

BP spokesman Jason Ryan dismissed the study's findings as not matching the real-life findings of BP and government scientists during the disaster.

"These researchers use a model," Ryan said. "However, the thousands of water and sediment samples collected and analyzed as part of the Deepwater Horizon response refutes the researchers' hypothesis and shows that there was no (Deepwater Horizon) oil in Tampa Bay or the Florida shelf adjacent to it."

He also pointed out that state officials, with funding from BP, have been conducting tests of seafood and so far no samples have exceeded federal safety standards.

"Nothing we do on Deepwater Horizon is free of controversy," USF oceanographer Steve Murawski, one of the study's authors, said Wednesday.

The disaster began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010. Eleven rig workers died, and two days later oil began spraying from the sunken rig 5,000 feet beneath the waves. BP was unable to shut off the flow until July 15, 2010, after an estimated 4.9 million barrels had escaped.

Oil that floated to the surface tainted shorelines from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, but did not reach farther south. However, the USF study says oil particles swirled down the shelf paralleling the state's coastline to nearly the Fort Myers area.

Although the spill has largely faded from national headlines, some oil is still in the gulf. Weathered particles remain buried in the gulf bottom's sediment and could be there for up to a century.

Meanwhile, scientists continue trying to gauge the impact on fish and other creatures. Previous USF studies have found that the oil killed off millions of amoeba-like creatures that form the basis of the aquatic food chain. Other scientists and commercial fishermen reported finding eyeless shrimp and deformed crabs.

Diseased red snapper and other fish turned up there a few months after BP shut off the flow of oil. The discovery of fish with lesions faded out the following year, suggesting their ailments were tied to an event that had ended.

During the disaster, the only extensive sampling of fish occurred in the vicinity of the oil rig, Murawski said. But later USF scientists took fish samples where oil had gone to the surface and also along the continental shelf where computer modeling by USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg said the upwelling had occurred.

Based on the diseased fish they found there, and Weisberg's studies of the currents, "we conclude that hydrocarbons of Deepwater Horizon origin were likely transported to the (continental shelf) and may even have entered Tampa Bay and contacted the beachfront between Tampa Bay and Sanibel," the study says.

However, Weisberg cautioned against assuming that this oil was part of the underwater plumes found beneath the gulf's surface after BP sprayed an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersant at the spewing wellhead. At this point, there is no evidence of that, he said.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

On the Web

To read the full USF study, go to sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967064514000356.

USF study: Diseased fish show dissolved oil from BP spill as far south as Sanibel 02/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 9:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii

    Military

    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan

    Blogs

    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville

    Blogs

    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that "both sides” bear blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry

    Military

    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.