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Matt Damon documentary features USF scientists

Posted at 5:07 PM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 00:23:54-04
"Dispatches from the Gulf" is a one-hour documentary that takes a close look at impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and shows how the scientific community is developing new ways to study the effects of pollution.
 
"It does a good job of explaining how we actually do our work," USF biologist and ecologist Dr. Steve Murawski told ABC Action News. "A lot of people sort of understand what oceanography is, but they don't really know our tools, our timing, what we seek to do and why we do it."
 
Murawski has a featured role in this latest installment of the Emmy Award-winning documentary series Journey to Planet Earth.
 
"The documentary shows a lot of the local people and how St. Pete and Tampa are a marine science hub for the Gulf of Mexico so it puts a lot of the institutions and people in context of what they do," Dr. Murawski tells ABC Action News.
 
The documentary will air Wednesday, which is the anniversary of the spill. It will air at 8 p.m. on WEDU, the PBS station in the Tampa Bay area. A second showing will be 5 p.m. Saturday.
 
You can also watch the movie online April 20 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. by clicking HERE.
 
You can watch a trailer by clicking HERE.
 
Murawski and the USF College of Marine Science have taken their work over the past few years and created a summary of  "Lessons" they hope the community -- and policy makers -- will read.
 
Lesson 1: The need for baseline data throughout the oceans to determine a disaster's effects 
Under the oil pollution act of 1990 (opa), established after the 1989 alaska exxon valdez spill, the responsible party is required to pay for damage. Opa90's natural resource damage assessment regulation requires quantifying damage and ecosystem restoration to pre-spill or "baseline" condition. With the gulf vastly understudied before 2010, having a complete picture of the gulf's "before" condition was impossible. Strong baseline could have provided an invaluable assessment and also could have even influenced how responders did risk assessments. 
 
Lesson 2: Oil sinks to the bottom
Marine "snow" is a term used to describe the particulate matter (dead and dying plankton) Falling to the seafloor and is a pathway through which oil can be deposited on the seafloor. Crude oil is made of thousands of different arrangements of carbon that become more toxic after burning.  These toxic compounds can be trapped in marine snow and cover the seabed, harming marine life.
 
Lesson 3: Dispersants may not as useful as once believed, particularly in the deep-sea
Over two million gallons of dispersants were released during relief efforts at the surface and at the well-head. Dispersants break larger droplets into smaller ones for increased bacterial degradation. Studies have shown that dispersants did not stimulate bacterial growth and may have inhibited bacterial growth (full study here).
 
Lesson 4: Prolonged oil toxicity in fish continues 
Fish communities exposed to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can severely impact fish health, behavior, and reproduction. Since 2010, USF researchers have studied the extent of exposure over time and evaluated fish muscle and liver tissue for PAH. Tissue samples from both shallow and deep water fish communities show that PAH concentrations in deep water fish increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2011, while the increase in PAH content in shallow water fish increased 20-fold.  
 
Meanwhile, BP paid Pinellas County $7.1 million in 2015, but the county hasn't yet decided what to do with the money.
 
The county commissioners are taking suggestions until the end of April. Click HERE to weigh in.