Webinars on how oil spills impact oysters and water quality next in summer lineup

Two popular oil spill science webinar series will broadcast second installments next week. Increasing resilience of wild and farmed oysters before, during, and after an oil spill, part two in the series Oysters: Adapting to a changing Gulf, will go live on July 27 at 1 pm CDT/2 EDT. Impacts of oil spills on water quality, the second episode of Detecting the true, potential, and perceived impacts to human health following an oil spill will follow three days later on July 30 at 2 pm CDT/3 EDT. Both events will be available via Zoom and Facebook Live and will last an hour and a half. Each will take the format of three talks followed by a panel discussion, with attendees encouraged to chat or comment questions for the speakers.

Early in the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach program, team members interacted with residents and workers around the Gulf of Mexico to find out what kinds of questions they had following Deepwater Horizon. Then they set about researching those topics, writing publications, and hosting seminars that shared peer-reviewed findings on subjects audiences wanted to know more about. The fate of oysters in the path of oil and any potential human impacts have been high-interest topics since the inception of the program.

Texas Sea Grant oil spill science specialist Dani Bailey said, “Oysters are so many things—an important ecological and economic resource to the Gulf.” She added, “If they’re gone, the chemical composition and cleanliness of the water completely changes.”

Originally, Bailey planned an all-day in-person event to learn about oysters. But once the team moved its popular seminars online to address COVID-19 precautions, she split the agenda into three webinars. The first, The role of oysters in our estuarine ecosystem and the threats facing them, covered just that, with additional information about restoration efforts underway around the Gulf. Presentations from the first meeting can be watched on the event page.

The July 27 webinar, Increasing resilience of wild and farmed oysters before, during, and after an oil spill, will feature talks on oyster aquaculture and mariculture efforts around the Gulf by Auburn University’s Bill Walton and Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Joe Fox. Additionally, Jason Herrmann of the Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources will cover natural resource managers prepare for and respond to oil spills. A third installment in August will focus on the ecological and economic impacts of oil spills on oysters.

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant specialist Missy Partyka, organizer of the webinar series covering various ways oil spills impact human populations, said a difficulty of answering audiences’ questions about human impacts is how much scientists still do not know about this important subject. “Researchers are actively pursuing answers on human impacts from oil spills, but studies involving people are notoriously difficult and rife with red tape,” Partyka explained, “For that reason, I’m asking my speakers to focus on not only what they know, but also to address things they are still unsure of or places there are knowledge gaps.”

The first installment of the series, Impacts to air quality, attracted a broad mix of private citizens along with natural resource managers, university researchers, and oil spill responders—a testament to the high level of interest in the subject. Like Bailey, Partyka has shared videos of these talks on the webinar landing page.

The July 30 webinar Impacts to water quality will look at what scientists know about how oil intrusion affects water supplies in the long-term, and how it could impact those who enter it to boat or swim. At the event, Barbara Bekins, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey will share data collected from a 30-year-old Minnesota pipeline spill to help audiences understand what happens when oil penetrates groundwater supplies. Following that, Helena Solo-Gabriele of the University of Miami will share her research on human exposure to the chemicals found in oil while swimming or playing on a beach near an impacted area. Grady Springer from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management will share how his agency responds following a spill from pipe, rail, or road, including the regulations that govern local versus federal response. Her final installment, also tentatively slated for August, will cover the impacts of dispersants used in oil spill response on human health.

The final installments in these series will take place in August. Webinars on other subjects are slated into the autumn, and new outreach publications will be coming then as well. To learn more about the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach program, go to https://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/.

Featured photo: A Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) discovered oil debris attached to an oyster shell on the shoreline of Raccoon Island, a protected bird breeding sanctuary in Louisiana. How does oil intrusion impact oysters or people who encounter it in the water or on the shoreline? (U.S. Navy/ Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathen E. Davis)