Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gulf oil spill effects may be seen in diseased fish

Some of the first potentially chronic effects from last year's BP oil disaster — including diseased fish — may be starting to unfold as scientists review their first year of research.

Studies analyzing reef fish, such as snapper and grouper, off the Florida Panhandle indicate that some fish now have grayish-brown lesions, strange parasitic boils and fin rot. Some fish documented on reefs a year before the oil disaster have disappeared.

It is too early to say that oil is the cause or that the number of diseased fish in the northern Gulf of Mexico is higher this year compared with the past. But the problems, noticed months ago by fishermen, prompted state scientists to investigate.

Florida scientists, funded by the Florida Institute of Oceanography last year through a $10 million BP grant, met at the University of Central Florida Wednesday for the first of a two-day session to discuss their studies so far. Scientists from across the state, including Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, are involved in the research to learn how the spill changed the Gulf and strategies for preventing future problems.

Fishermen have reported snapper lesions for months. Will Patterson, an associate professor of biology at the University of West Florida, is among the first scientists to document and report the problem. His research team also has documented diseased fish with remote underwater cameras. (read more)