News

Team reads, writes, travels to answer your oil spill questions

By: Tara Skelton / Published: Aug 31,  2017

The Oil Spill Science Outreach Team formed in 2014 so those around the Gulf impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could get unbiased, peer-reviewed facts about its impacts. After sharing science with thousands via publications, webinars and face-to-face interactions at seminars and workshops around the Gulf, we decided to take our show on the road.

In her last blog, team member and fellow Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant staffer Larissa Graham reported on her June trip to Cleveland, where she joined Sea Grant programs in the region to discuss what current research tells us about oil transportation and risk. More recently, Chris Hale and Monica Wilson, from the Texas and Florida Sea Grant programs, along with Mississippi-Alabama deputy director and team outreach manager Steve Sempier, traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to present findings to our Caribbean partners. They shared lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon, focusing on spill impacts relevant to island life, such as science about coral, beaches, sea turtles, birds, fish, fishermen, seafood and tourism.

Event organizers assemble in San Juan. Pictured left to right: Kurt Grove, Steve Sempier, Monica Wilson, Chris Hale, Ruperto Chaparro, René F. Esteves Amador and Cristina Olán. (Photo credit: Puerto rico Sea Grant)
Event organizers assemble in San Juan. Pictured left to right: Kurt Grove, Steve Sempier, Monica Wilson, Chris Hale, Ruperto Chaparro, René F. Esteves Amador and Cristina Olán. (Photo credit: Puerto rico Sea Grant)

Our team held the first workshop in St. Croix as part of the biannual meeting of the Caribbean Regional Response Team (CRRT). Participants came largely from the region’s emergency response community, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, University of the Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service, Oil Spill Response Limited and more. The team worked closely with Puerto Rico Sea Grant to ensure the second workshop in San Juan drew stakeholders from across the island. Folks from the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Environmental Quality Board of Puerto Rico, Environmental and Developmental Sustainability, University of Puerto Rico, Caribbean Coastal and Ocean Observing System, Municipality of San Juan, Puma Energy and elsewhere came together to learn about the history of spill and incident response in their island territory. 

Steve Sempier presents to an audience composed largely of emergency responders in St. Croix. (Photo credit: Chris Hale)
Steve Sempier presents to an audience composed largely of emergency responders in St. Croix. (Photo credit: Chris Hale)

With two successful meetings outside the Gulf behind us, team members are now working with partners in northeast, mid-Atlantic, and west coast Sea Grant programs to develop oil spill science seminars relevant to their geographic needs. But that doesn’t mean we’ve left our Gulf audiences behind—far from it. We have three workshops in development in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana focusing on response and research issues specific to three habitats—offshore, wetlands, and beaches. We will post on our webpage the specifics of how to attend in person or via webinar as those dates and venues become finalized.

In order to share science at seminars, our team first must do a lot of homework. To date, we’ve published 16 booklets—all written in straightforward, everyday language—examining what scientists have found about Deepwater Horizon impacts in their ongoing studies. Our next publication, due to debut next week, took a lot of research. It’s one of the most common questions we get asked and we wanted to answer as thoroughly as possible. In Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go?, lead author Monica Wilson will reveal everything the most current studies tell us about what happened to the nearly 200 million gallons of oil that flowed from the Macondo well, including the fact that scientists still aren’t sure where a percentage wound up.

Our other specialists, Chris Hale, Larissa Graham, and Emily Maung-Douglass, are each working on new outreach publications of their own—on corals, wetlands, and oil-eating microbes respectively. Look for those to debut on our website before year’s end. If you want to know immediately when new publications are available, email me and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

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