Orange droplets that have tested positive for hydrocarbons are visible trapped inside the shell of an immature blue crab collected near Grand Isle, La. Researchers wondering how the Gulf of Mexico will affect the Gulf oil spill are paying close attention to the blue crab.
(Photo Credit: USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory/AP)
Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2010
By Bill Sasser
To find out how the food chain has been affected by the Gulf oil spill, marine scientists are closely monitoring this year’s spawn of blue crab – a key kind of plankton – in the Gulf of Mexico.
late May, marine biologist Erin Grey, a post-doctoral researcher at Tulane University, discovered oily orange droplets inside blue crab larvae she collected in areas affected by the BP oil spill.
Eighty percent of crab larvae samples collected from an area of the Gulf stretching from Louisiana to Florida showed evidence of the orange substance, which initially tested positive for hydrocarbons, says Dr. Grey, who along with other Tulane researchers, is collaborating with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
More blue crab larvae with the orange blobs were recently collected off Grand Isle in Louisiana, she adds.
“This is something that researchers with decades of experience have never seen before, and we think it must be linked to the spill,” says Grey.
Subsequent testing, however, has yet to give a definitive answer on whether the unusual substance contains either oil or dispersants related to the oil spill, she says. “It’s been frustrating because you want answers, and initial analyses said, 'Yes, it’s hydrocarbons,' but we still haven’t gotten a clear enough reading to say for sure,” she adds.