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Oil in Gulf of Mexico: Biologists cite need for critical data to determine ecological consequences

Twenty years after biologists attempted to determine the ecological damages to marine life from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists dealing with the BP disaster find themselves with the same problem: the lack of critical data to determine the ecological consequences of human-induced environmental disasters, a University of Florida researcher said.

Writing in the Feb. 4 issue of the journal Science, Karen A. Bjorndal, a University of Florida biology professor and director of the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, and other biologists said the United States needs “strategic national research plans for key marine species and ecosystems based on evaluation of cause and effect and on integrated monitoring of abundance and demographic traits.”

“It is sad to see that we are in the same place now,” said Bjorndal, adding that not much has changed since the Valdez oil spill when it comes to getting the data needed to assess and restore a marine ecosystem after an environmental disaster. She hopes it will provide an impetus for action.

“We know how to create these research plans — what is needed now is the political will and leadership to do so,” she wrote.

“Achieving mandated recovery goals depends on understanding both population trends and the demographic processes that drive those trends,” Bjorndal’s article states.

Her team argues it “is not too late to invest funds from BP to support teams of experts to develop effective strategic plans that identify, prioritize and provide methodologies for collecting essential data.”

The team identified seven elements that need to be included in most of the plans.

“In the wake of the BP oil spill, the need for this policy shift is as clear as it is compelling. The largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history should provide the impetus and opportunity to effect this policy shift.” Bjorndal wrote in her article.

Co-authors of the article, called “Better Science Needed for Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico,” are Brian Bowen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii; Milani Chaloupka, Ecological Modeling Services, University of Queensland, Australia; Larry B. Crowder, Center for Marine Conservation, Duke University; Selina S. Heppell, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University; Cynthia M. Jones, Center for Quantitative Fisheries Ecology, Old Dominion University; Molly E. Lutcavage, Large Pelagics Research Center, University of Massachusetts; David Policansky, National Research Council, Washington, D.C.; Andrew R. Solow, Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Blair E. Witherington, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Ron Word,, 352-392-0186
Karen Bjorndal,, 352-392-1126

Karen Bjorndal | EurekAlert!
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