A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 17 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.
During the Deepwater Horizon spill, an estimated 10% of the 210 million gallons spilled remained on the sea floor affecting these benthic (bottom dwelling) ecosystems. This oil finds its way to the sea floor through two known processes, (1) oil floats to the surface, degrades, and sinks to the bottom,known as a MOSSFA event, and (2) sub-sea plumes meet the continental shelf and cover the bottom in oil. To understand the effects of these two processes on benthic ecosystems, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have set up aquariums to simulate interactions of oil and dispersants to benthic communities.
Jessica Wonink, a M.S. student at Wageningen is studying the interaction of oil and dispersants on macro- and meiofauna found on the sea floor. Jessica is our C-IMAGE Student of the Month for June 2016.
What is the focus of your research, how will your results contribute to improve understanding of oil spills? (What are your research questions?)
I am exploring the possibilities to test the effect of oil spills and related marine snow on benthic meiofauna. These tests have not been done before, so not much is known about the effects that oil spills could have on benthic meiofauna. I want to develop a test method for this. Also I am working with two phd students on an ecotox aquarium experiment with benthic macrofauna. Right now, we are trying to integrate meiofauna in this macrofauna experiment so we can test the effects of oil and marine snow on both groups in the same experimental set-up. By keeping organisms of both groups in the same aquaria, we mimic a more natural environment.
What path did you take to make it to where you are now? Bachelor’s degree, internship experience, working experience?
I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Wageningen University in November 2014. Since then, I’ve been studying for my Master’s degree, for which I specialized in marine biology.
What initially interested you in working with your Wageningen University?
During my studies at Wageningen University I became more and more aware of the problems for nature, especially in the marine environment. This got me interested in nature conservation and ecotoxicology research. At IMARES Wageningen UR, they work on these subjects. Therefore I am very excited to now have the opportunity to do my thesis project here.
What research tasks are you completing this week (or this month)?
This week the aquarium experiment in which the effects of oil and marine snow on both benthic macrofauna and benthic meiofauna will be tested, has started. For this, I gathered sediment and organisms, and prepared the aquaria. The next few weeks I will observe these aquaria, and monitor the water quality. Further, I will do tests to find out how I can determine the viability of foraminifera. Once I know that, I can start with toxicity experiments on these organisms.
Which of your findings or research has been most eye-opening? Were there any moments or facts that just made you say "Wow! I did not expect that!"?
Right now, my research has just started, so I do not have any real results or finding yet. However, I learn new things every day and there are many small things that amaze me. I am working with very small organisms that most people would never notice, and just looking at them in detail and learning about how they live and what they can do is absolutely wonderful.
Thank you Jessica for taking the time for some questions.