Weekly News: November 2005
Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) have determined that the seasonal low-oxygen (hypoxic) zone in the Gulf of Mexico—known as the “dead zone”—has negatively impacted the health and size of brown shrimp, the Gulf’s highest-valued commercial species. Although shrimp can escape low-oxygen waters, their movement away from the hypoxic zone may come at a price. NCCOS scientists found that shrimp avoidance of the hypoxic zone causes them to aggregate on the periphery of the zone, where temperatures are suboptimal for growth. The scientists estimated that the hypoxic zone has resulted in a 25 percent habitat loss for shrimp, a 5 to 20 percent decrease in shrimp growth rate, lower energy content, and smaller body size. These findings represent an important contribution to understanding the impacts of the dead zone on a vital natural resource of the Gulf of Mexico. For more information, please contact Alan.Lewitus@noaa.gov.
NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) and Office of Coast Survey (OCS) are on-scene, assisting the U.S. Coast Guard in responding to a tank barge spill off the coast of Louisiana. On 12 November, the Tank Barge REBEL struck an unidentified object about 30 miles south west of Calcasieu Pass, resulting in the barge taking on water. Initial reports indicate that the tank barge suffered a 35-foot by 6-foot hole in the bow of the barge, breaching both the external hull and the internal hull of at least one tank. The 441-foot tank barge was loaded with approximately 5 million gallons of heavy fuel oil. The damaged tank held approximately 300,000 gallons of oil; the amount of oil actually spilled is still being assessed. Immediately, following the incident, OCS processed information, provided plots, and provided logistical assistance to the Coast Guard and NOAA. OR&R is also on-scene, assisting the Coast Guard in assessing the spill. For more information please contact Howard.Danley@noaa.gov, Office of Coast Survey, or Marc.Hodges@noaa.gov, Office of Response and Restoration.
NOAA scientists have confirmed that a massive coral bleaching event is underway in the Caribbean, which may result in unprecedented coral death in much of the region. Currently, the regional bleaching event—one of the worst on record—is centered in waters adjacent to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, expanding northward to the Florida Keys and Texas’s Flower Garden Banks, to Tobago and Barbados in the southern Antilles, to Panama and Costa Rica in the west. The NOAA Coral Reef Watch Satellite Bleaching Alert monitoring system first reported the event. The system automatically monitors for the thermal stress that gives rise to coral bleaching. For more information, contact Roger.Griffis@noaa.gov.
From November 2-4, NOAA co-sponsored the Brownfields 2005 conference in Denver, Colorado. At the conference, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management Director Eldon Hout moderated a "Portfields Lessons Learned" session. He also introduced a new Portfields video, which was showcased in the Brownfields Film Series. The video accompanies the report: "Portfields: Charting a Course to Port Revitalization," which was released by NOAA and EPA at the conference. The report, which highlights the Portfields partnership, describes accomplishments, and documents best management practices and innovative strategies that may be transferred to other ports, is available online (pdf, 1.3MB, 24 pages). Additional details on the conference and NOAA’s involvement in the Portfields initiative are available online at: http://brownfields.noaa.gov/htmls/portfields/portfields.html. For more information, contact Kenneth.Walker@noaa.gov.
NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration Hazardous Materials Response Division (HAZMAT) responded to a chemical pesticide incident in Seattle, Washington this past week. Three people became ill after handling a dry pesticide cargo. HAZMAT also responded to an incident approximately one half mile north of the jetty at the Siuslaw River entrance in Oregon, where a pool of mercury was discovered. Eight pounds of contaminated sand was removed from the site; the source of the mercury remains unknown. For more information, please contact Marc.Hodges@noaa.gov.
The Office of Response and Restoration is continuing to support Hurricane Katrina response efforts with support staff in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. The Scientific Support Coordinator (SSC) in New Orleans continues to support clean-up operations for several oil spill sites in Southeast Louisiana. In Mobile, the SSC supports operations for Mississippi and Alabama with emphasis on waterway debris and eligibility criteria for field documentation. For more information, contact Marc.Hodges@noaa.gov.
The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) research team recently conducted a post-hurricane cruise to the Sanctuary. This was the first opportunity for the team to survey the reef since both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Limited surveys revealed significant mechanical impacts at all three reef sites within the Sanctuary, including large boulders of reef rock and coral removed and tossed around the reef, and up to 1 meter of sand removed from sand flats. Large barrel sponges (Xestospongia muta) have suffered considerable damage, including partial and full removal and filling with sand. In response to a large body of polluted water that made its way out from the Texas/Louisiana coast to the FGBNMS after Hurricane Rita (see http://coastwatch.noaa.gov/tsm/search.html), coral tissue, sediment, and water samples were collected for contaminant analysis. To add insult to injury, the coral is undergoing a bleaching event. Initial observations indicate between 35% and 40% of the colonies are bleached to some extent. The bleaching appears to be affecting 100% of the fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) and great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) and affecting at least eleven other coral species to varying degrees. For more information, contact Emma.Hickerson@noaa.gov.
NCCOS researchers found differences in accumulation, loss, and post harvest growth rates of species of the waterborne human pathogenic bacterium, Vibrio sp., in the native Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and the Asian oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis). Species of Vibrio are responsible for the majority of seafood-related bacterial infections in human. This preliminary result raises public safety concerns with the proposed introduction of the Asian oyster along the East Coast of the United States. Compared with the Eastern oyster, following harvest, growth rates of the Vibrio sp. was faster in the Asian oyster than in the Eastern oyster. Although present shellfish bed closure regulations might be adequate, post harvest handling procedures may not be adequate to assure safe shellfish consumption. For more information, contact James.Morris@noaa.gov.
Along the Texas coast, identifying harmful algal blooms (HABs) has been a problem because harmless benthic algae, which normally live on the ocean floor, can be disturbed and suspended in the water column by winds. This resuspension can cause false positives in HAB detection—calling a bloom “harmful” when it is not. A new technique developed by an NCCOS scientist identifies increased concentrations of algae that result from resuspension, providing better identification of harmful blooms along the Texas coast. This method will reduce false positives, thus increasing the likelihood of successful operational monitoring of HABs in the western Gulf of Mexico. The method should also aid in identifying all algal blooms in areas subject to resuspension. Better HABs detection and data allows for improved decision-making by coastal mangers and public health professionals. For more information, contact Timothy.Wynne@noaa.gov.
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