Environmental Science Students Research Gulf Spill

Two years after the BP oil spill hit the Gulf of Mexico, environmental students and faculty at Florida A&M continue to research the coast.

Diana Johnson, a second-year graduate student at the Environmental Sciences Institute, is writing her thesis on the effects of oil compounds on almost 500 species of fish, including the gray trigger, red snapper and amberjack, of the coast reef community. She said Alabama, Florida and Mississippi were impacted the worst.

“Our studies have revealed that fishes have learned to break down the oil in their systems in order to get back to normal,” Johnson said. “One of the things we are looking at is how exposed fresh and salt water fish are thriving. So far, it’s an analysis on how and what kind of contamination has affected the ecosystem.”

Since the oil spill, FAMU has collaborated with several Florida schools, including the University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University, regardless of classification and experience.

LaTrisha Allen, 28, a second-year doctoral student from Hubert, N.C., studied oil exposure in fish after the oil spill between May 2010 and May 2011.

“There are certain parts of the body that takes in more toxins than others,” Allen said. “We are focusing on the livers because the liver transforms a substance that will remove a toxin from the body.”

Allen said students need to keep in mind that “it’s not over” and recommends they stay informed.

“It’s not in the news as much as it used to be,” Allen said. “A lot of people have put it out of their minds, but they need know that this is a disaster that has affected an entire ecosystem. Dolphins are showing signs of oil contamination. They are important to our ecosystem.”

FAMU’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center will kick off its sixth annual educational partnership forum today. The three-day event will include speeches and presentations covering the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s purpose and role in research in the gulf. Students in the program will present their studies with other students and scientists. The forum is free to the public.

Speakers will include  John (Jack) Hayes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assistant administrator for Weather Services and National Weather Service (NWS). For more information on research programs and the forum, visit www.ecsc.famu.edu.