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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 576:163-174 (2017)  -  DOI:

Potential impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on subtidal oysters in the Gulf of Mexico

Jonathan H. Grabowski1,*, Sean P. Powers2, Henry Roman3, Shahrokh Rouhani

1Northeastern University, Marine Science Center, 430 Nahant Road Nahant, MA 01908, USA
2Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 1011 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
3Industrial Economics, Inc., 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140, USA
4NewFields, 1349 W. Peachtree Street, Suite 2000, Atlanta, GA 30309, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling platform initiated an unprecedented chain of environmental perturbations that threatened sensitive nearshore habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Here, we examined subtidal oyster reef populations monitored by state resource agencies prior to and after the DWH incident in the spring-summer of 2010. Fishery-independent surveys were conducted in each of the following Gulf States using either diver-collected quadrat samples (Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida) or dredge surveys (Texas) at fixed sites to assess trends in oyster density of recently settled (spat), juvenile to young adult (seed), or adult (market) oysters. Compared to baseline values (average 2006-2009), the densities of spat, seed, and market oysters were extremely low in 2010, with little recovery in 2011 and 2012 in areas within the central portion of the northern Gulf of Mexico (eastern Louisiana-Mississippi). In contrast, densities of all oyster size classes in western Louisiana and Texas (outside the footprint of oil or freshwater release) and juvenile oysters in Apalachicola Bay, Florida, revealed no consistent pattern of change in 2010 compared to baseline levels in 2006-2009. Thus, major declines in oyster populations occurred within the northern Gulf of Mexico in summer 2010, and populations remained low through 2012. The spatial footprint of this decline is largely coincident with the oiling and freshwater diversion response activities associated with the DWH incident, although many potential confounding factors are also considered. Fisheries-independent datasets offer much-needed baseline data that can be used to assess potential impacts from disturbances.

KEY WORDS: Crassostrea virginica · Deepwater Horizon · Eastern oyster · Gulf of Mexico · Oil spill · Perturbation

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Cite this article as: Grabowski JH, Powers SP, Roman H, Rouhani S (2017) Potential impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on subtidal oysters in the Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 576:163-174.

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