Where Did the Gulf Oil Go? The Plankton Ate It.

Where Did the Gulf Oil Go? The Plankton Ate It.

Food & Drink

Where Did the Gulf Oil Go? The Plankton Ate It.


Scientists say they have for the first time tracked how certain nontoxic elements of oil from the BP spill quickly became dinner for plankton, entering the food web in the Gulf of Mexico.

As reported in a story on Newsmax.com, the new study sheds light on two key questions about the aftermath of the 172 million-gallon spill in April: What happened to the oil that once covered the water’s surface and will it work its way into the diets of Gulf marine life?

The study’s chief author, William “Monty” Graham, a plankton expert at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, says the oil just became food for plankton.

The study didn’t specifically track the toxic components of the oil that has people worried. It focused on the way the basic element carbon moved through the beginnings of the all-important food web. Graham said the “eye-opening” speed of how the oil components moved through the ecosystem may affect the overall health of the Gulf.

Michael Crosby of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida didn’t take part in the study but said what fascinated him was that the carbon zipped through the food web faster than scientists expected. That in itself isn’t alarming, but if the nontoxic part of the oil is moving so rapidly through the food web, Crosby asks: “What has happened to the toxic compounds of the released oil?”

Graham said it was too hard to study the toxins in tiny plankton, which are plant and animal life, usually microscopic. So he had to go with an indicator that’s easier to track: the ratio of different types of carbon in microbes and plankton around and even under the BP oil slick. That important ratio jumped 20 percent, showing oil in the food web.

By late September the carbon ratios in microscopic life had returned to normal, Graham said.

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