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Gulf Sea Grant Team Translates, Shares Oil Spill Research Findings

Gulf Sea Grant Team Translates, Shares Oil Spill Research Findings

Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach

By Melissa Schneider, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium

An outreach program in the Gulf of Mexico has Sea Grant programs working together to help community leaders, resource managers and others understand the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and ways to mitigate future oil spills. 

As an unprecedented amount of scientific research focuses on the oil spill, the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach team has spent the last year and a half identifying common questions and concerns, searching peer-reviewed literature for answers and synthesizing the research findings to deliver pertinent scientific information to people who depend on a healthy Gulf. 

Typically, the team shares simplified scientific research results through outreach publications and in-person and online seminars.

“As we write our publications, we distill major scientific findings into digestible pieces so that people can connect to the science behind the story,” said Chris Hale, a team member with the Texas Sea Grant College Program who is based in Corpus Christi, Texas. “In this way, we extend science in a useful and understandable way.” 

Chris Hale, left, Monica Wilson, Steve Sempier, Larissa Graham and Emily Maung-Douglass make up the oil spill science outreach team. Image: Roy Kron, Louisiana Sea Grant.

Team members also include Monica Wilson of Florida Sea Grant, Larissa Graham of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, Emily Maung-Douglass of Louisiana Sea Grant and Team Coordinator Steve Sempier of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant. The specialists have diverse expertise in several scientific areas, such as physical oceanography, ecotoxicology and marine science. 

They work with fishermen, tourism specialists, ports and harbors employees, public health officials, natural resource managers, emergency responders and others to deliver information and gather input on remaining oil spill science needs.

The team collaborates with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), which is overseeing a $500 million, 10-year research program started to understand how oil and dispersants move around the environment, interact with one another and impact people, animals, water quality and habitats. GoMRI is administered through the Gulf of Mexico Alliance

Joel Hayworth of Auburn University participates in a Q&A session with other presenters at an oil spill science seminar. Image: Melissa Schneider, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.

Chuck Wilson, GoMRI’s chief scientific officer and former Louisiana Sea Grant director, said Sea Grant has a rich history of working with science and reaching the audiences that use science-based information. 

“There are very few, if any, organizations that have the capacity inherent in Sea Grant’s extension network,” he said.

The wide range of science disciplines in the oil spill science outreach effort coincide with GoMRI’s research themes, which include the following:

  • Physical distribution, dispersion and dilution of oil

  • Chemical evolution and biological degradation of oil

  • Environmental effects of oil on different marine ecosystems 

  • Technology development for improved oil spill response  

  • Impacts of oil spills on public health

 “A few examples are the transport of oil, impacts of oil on Louisiana salt marshes, how microbes break down oil and the effects of dispersants on the fate and transport of oil,” Monica Wilson said. 

People attend an oil spill science seminar in Alabama about oil and beaches. Image: Melissa Schneider, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.

So far, 964 people interested in oil spill research results have attended 13 of the team’s seminars, Graham said. The team has given more than 40 presentations and collected input from more than 1,000 people through one-on-one meetings and input sessions. To date, team members also have released four outreach publications and have more in production.

Here are ways you can access oil spill science information:

  • Watch the oil spill science seminars online. 

  • Join the team’s email list that announces new outreach products and upcoming seminars.

  • Sign up for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative’s electronic newsletter. 

  • Search for #oilspillresearch on Twitter. 


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