Winter 2017 – Frequently Asked Questions by Dr. Chuck Wilson

(From Winter 2017 Newsletter) The 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science (GoMOSES) Conference theme was Ecosystem Approaches to Gulf Response and Restoration. The goal of this year’s conference was to provide an opportunity for attendees to hear from the federal, industry, and state oil spill response communities and to encourage attendees to consider practical applications of their science to response and restoration efforts during and after oil spill events. Dr. Chuck Wilson, Chief Scientific Officer for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), answers a few frequently asked questions about this topic in order to explore the intersection between science and restoration and response, as well as lessons learned from this year’s conference.

Question: What have we learned that leaves the Gulf and other regions better prepared for oil spills and other environmental management challenges?

Answer: The conference plenary keynote speaker, David Westerholm, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Office of Response and Restoration, provided attendees with an excellent framework of how oil spill response is governed by the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act and how those laws are interpreted by the agencies and parties responsible. The diverse array of attendees at this year’s conference is clear evidence that the scientific community and the oil spill response and environmental management communities are working more closely together. This will provide more rapid integration of science into future oil spill response and restoration efforts, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico. The large amount of science funded by GoMRI and emerging out of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) has certainly improved our understanding of oil spill impacts and will enable the response and scientific communities to be better prepared for the next event. A critical step that we cannot overlook is to encourage and help the science and response communities to work together to report new science findings in applicable ways.

Question: What do resource managers and response and restoration practitioners still need to know?

Answer:There were a number of very interesting presentations at the GoMOSES conference that highlighted where more research would be beneficial. Based on the reports by the session chairs, there were recommendations for further investigation into model integration, particularly connecting the various scale and watershed models into ecosystem level models, and advances in chemical analysis, which have led to new questions regarding the toxicity and fate of previously unidentified daughter products that result from oil photooxidation, microbial degradation, and other sources of breakdown. We heard a lot of excellent presentations on long-term fate and impacts of oil on ecosystems, particularly through the use of genomics, but were reminded that there is little known about the impacts on deep-sea organisms that live at the depths where oil exploration and production are currently taking place. An exciting area of research is in the field of “omics,” which is providing us with tools to detect sub-lethal responses by organisms as indicators of genome impacts and if some of those responses are epigenomic (passed on to future generations).

Question: How can the GoMRI community and oil spill responders help in bridging these gaps?

Answer: The short answer is to communicate and engage with one another. Meetings like GoMOSES are a great opportunity to exchange ideas and work through perceived differences in scientific findings and their interpretation. Researchers should invite practitioners to help and advice during research project development. There are some great examples of how scientists are engaging oil spill response and restoration practitioners as they pose new questions and write proposals to address problems/gaps. It is also important for scientists to attend oil spill response focused meetings, such as the International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC), to continue to engage with practitioners (the next IOSC meeting will be in Long Beach, CA, May 15-18, 2017).

[Back to the Winter 2017 Newsletter]