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Living Green

Marsh grasses killed by BP oil spill but protected inner marshes

The BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 worsened some already existing problems in Louisiana's salt marshes, but a study from the University of Florida found that marsh grasses also stopped the oils spread.

The spill killed off salt marsh plants 15 to 30 feet away from the shoreline, increased the rate of erosion but grasses found more than 45 feet from the shoreline were only minimally affected by oil.

While the grasses at the marsh edge died due to exposure to the oil, they also trapped the incoming oil slicks, concentrating oil on the marsh edge and protecting the inner marshes.

The researchers believe that the oil spill result in elevated erosion rates for 1.5 years that averaged more than 10 feet of shoreline loss per year. However, the unaffected and health marsh plants in the protected marsh interior quickly grew back and tempered some of the erosion.

The marsh is a main resource for coastal Louisiana – acting as nurseries for shrimp, oysters and fish – while also sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide. It protects coastlines from flooding and guard estuarine waters from nutrient pollution as well.

The study also mentioned the researchers' bioremediation efforts at the marsh, using a charcoal-based substance called biochar to remove the harmful effect of a carcinogenic byproduct of oil, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, by attempting to break them down into organic material. If successful, it would help naturally occurring microbes in the marsh mud that already oxidize the oil carcinogen. – EcoSeed Staff

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