Fish in the Mexican Gulf have shown sickness signals. (Photo: YouTube/WKRGNews)
Scientists aghast over sick fish in Mexican Gulf
Monday, May 16, 2011, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
Scientists along the Gulf Coast are expressing unease as they continue to discover a considerable number of fish with health problems including skin injuries, fin rot, spots and liver blood clots. The researchers worry their findings are a sign of a worse situation to come.
"It's a huge red flag," warned Richard Snyder, director of the University of West Florida (UWF) Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation in Pensacola.
Gulf scientists including UWF biologist William Patterson III, a colleague of Snyder’s, are investigating the chronic effects of last year’s BP oil spill on fish. Patterson has found indications consistent with oil exposure: injuries, external parasites, unusual pigmentation patterns and sickly livers and ovaries, which could signify a stressed immune system struggling against oil toxins, he said, reports Marco Island Florida.
The herring observed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska showed skin injuries and other health issues similar to those suffered by fish in the Gulf of Mexico and its inland waterways. The collapsed herring fishery has yet to recuperate.
Patterson is running his studies using some of the USD 600,000 UWF received after BP gave USD 10 million to the Florida Institute of Oceanography in Tampa, Florida.
He is collecting samples at targeted sites in the Gulf of Mexico as well as receiving them from commercial fishers. The latter samples have shown greater ailments.
At the same time, Patterson is careful to note that this type of extensive and thorough analysis of the Gulf's ecosystem is unprecedented, which could mean either that the troubling signs are new -- or that they had until now persisted undetected.
But he said afflicted fish have appeared in both offshore and inshore waters from Northwest Florida to Louisiana.
Related endeavors include an investigation into what microorganisms might be causing the diseases by scientists at Louisiana State University's (LSU) veterinarian school and marine biologist and environmental adviser for the city of Gulf Breeze Heather Reed’s studies on red snapper, which she is conducting through testing methods more extensive than those imposed by the US Government.
"I've been testing different organs in game fish that have been brought to me, and I'm seeing petroleum hydrocarbons in the organs," Reed expressed.
Despite many scientists’ systematic efforts, however, Reed and Patterson both explained that concluding how many fish are being found ill is dodgy because numerous commercial fishers hesitate to report their observations to state and federal officers, as they worry fishing grounds will be closed and they will be out of work.
Thus far, scientific findings imply that studies will be necessary for at least the next decade, Patterson said.
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By Natalia Real