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Does oil spill response vary by habitat?

By: Tara Skelton / Published: Nov 02,  2017

When a marine oil spill takes place, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 provides guidelines for government-funded agencies to respond. To do so, these agencies must keep abreast of the latest research on oil impacts and response techniques to determine the best solution in any scenario. The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team recently kicked off a three-part seminar series to allow those who study the impacts of oil spills and those who respond to oil spills to discuss best practices in the lab and in the field.

On Oct. 26 in Biloxi, more than 100 participants gathered in person and online to listen to a mixture of responder real-world case studies and scientists panel discussions as they pertained to cleaning oil spills in wetlands. This unique habitat is important to both the land and the sea. Wetlands filter pollutants and sediment from water running off our land and entering the marine environment. They serve as a breeding ground and nursery for many marine species. Further, the roots of the wetland grasses keep land from eroding, a critical issue in many areas of the northern Gulf.

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium’s Larissa Graham, oil spill science outreach specialist and event organizer, began the seminar by introducing the role of wetlands in the larger environment and how our presenters throughout the day would share challenges, successes and lessons learned to help us improve response efforts in wetland environments.

Oil spill science specialist Larissa Graham, top-center in red, leads a breakout session to allow audience members to interact in a small group setting with presenters from both the research and response worlds.
Oil spill science specialist Larissa Graham, top-center in red, leads a breakout session to allow audience members to interact in a small group setting with presenters from both the research and response worlds.

The structure of the seminar offered opportunities to listen and learn and to converse and share. First, state and federal agency representatives explained their role in the response framework and outlined some current best practices. A panel of university researchers followed, briefly explaining their work and taking questions from the audience about what their findings might mean for responders. After a (barbecue!) lunch, the room heard case studies regarding specific methods responders had used with success.

Jeff Dauzat of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality explains how his agency works within the federal framework when responding to spills in the state’s waters.
Jeff Dauzat of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality explains how his agency works within the federal framework when responding to spills in the state’s waters.

The day ended with Graham and other oil spill science team members leading small group breakout sessions. These groups allowed participants to recommend further questions for future sessions and products that would be helpful to those interested in oil spill response going forward. The breakout groups also provided an informal means for participants to process the day’s information while speaking one-on-one with presenters.

Brian Roberts, left, of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Kelly Boyle of Dauphin Island Sea Lab join a panel of university scientists as part of the seminar discussing what research is relevant to response.
Brian Roberts, left, of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Kelly Boyle of Dauphin Island Sea Lab join a panel of university scientists as part of the seminar discussing what research is relevant to response.

This seminar followed the blueprint of a successful researcher-responder summit prototype first held in Port Aransas, Texas, and then earlier this year in New Orleans. The new series, all taking place in the northern Gulf, divides the conversation by habitat. Following Biloxi’s wetlands seminar, we will be holding a workshop in Mobile, Alabama, on Nov. 13 that focuses on nearshore and beaches habitats. Space is still available (in person and online) for this event.

Finally, a third session, on a date still to be determined in early 2018, will put researchers and responders on the subject of deepwater oil spills. As always, the team streams the seminars for those who cannot attend these seminars in person and posts videos of talks and panel discussions after the fact on our seminar and workshops page

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