Study: Old oil spill affects wildlife

April 25, 2007

U.S. scientists have found the first evidence of biological effects of an oil spill that occurred 38 years ago in a marsh that apparently had recovered.

Through a series of field observations and laboratory experiments with salt marsh fiddler crabs, doctoral student Jennifer Culbertson and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found burrowing behavior, escape response, feeding rate and population abundance are significantly altered when the crabs are exposed to leftover oil compounds from the 1969 spill.

The study builds on previous work that showed oil compounds from the 1969 wreck of the barge Florida linger in sediment 3 to 8 inches below the surface of Wild Harbor in Falmouth, Mass.

Burrowing fiddler crabs in the marsh won't dig more than a few inches into the sediment in the areas most affected by the spill, the scientists reported.

The research by Culbertson, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution marine chemist Chris Reddy, ecologist Ivan Valiela and several student colleagues appears in the online version of the Marine Pollution Bulletin and will be published in the journal's print edition this spring.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International

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