Not just a day at the beach

TU biology professor and students hit the front lines in the Gulf Coast cleanup

TU in the Gulf, in pictures:
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TOWSON, Md. (Sept. 10, 2010)—The BP oil gusher has been capped and the initial cleanup effort is winding down. But for research teams attempting to gauge the environmental impact along the Gulf Coast, the real work has only just begun. This August, a group of TU biology students got an insider's perspective of just what lies ahead for researchers monitoring the long-term effects of the massive gulf spill.

The group, led by TU Professor of Biology Jay Nelson, witnessed science in action in three states that border the Gulf of Mexico. Students Sarah Buhlman, Kimberly Hackett Watkins, Karey Harris, Kevin Kelly, Genine Lipkey and Ryan McDonald traveled to the Dauphin Island Marine Lab in Alabama, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium laboratory and the University of Florida in Pensacola.

“This trip put our students on the front lines of ongoing research of an unprecedented disaster with severe environmental consequences. They will remember this experience long after they’ve forgotten most of their classroom material,” Nelson says.

Students visited experimental oyster beds in Alabama where researchers are tracking survival, growth and levels of contamination to asses the true damage caused by the spill. They met researchers in the Louisiana bayous who are studying the impact of oil and chemical dispersants on marsh fishes. They sifted for tar balls on Florida beaches and learned how water and sediment samples are processed to track the movement and composition of the oil.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," says first-year master's student Genine Lipkey. "I saw the oil in the marsh, the booms in the water and the tar balls in the white sand. It was a real eye-opener for me."

For students such as Lipkey, the experience also revealed the commonalities between the gulf ecosystem and the problems faced by the Maryland region. As they return to the TU campus for the academic year, the lessons learned on the Gulf Coast trip will continue to impact their academic experience.

"Many issues seen in the gulf are also present in the Chesapeake Bay," says Lipkey. "These regional issues aren't a result of the spill, but many are man-made. The trip reinforced the importance of research in the gulf, in the bay and everywhere. It was one of the most rewarding educational experiences I have ever had."




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