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.
My name is Travis Washburn, and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi. My research focus is on deep-sea infauna, or the small worms, crustaceans, and mollusks that live in the mud on the deep seafloor (benthic communities).
There are many different animals that live in the sediment, some can thrive in areas that have low oxygen or are contaminated by oil and other chemicals, while others will die. Thus by examining the animals that make up the communities at specific locations we can begin to determine whether the areas above them are healthy or not. I am using the benthic communities to help assess the damages done by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the deep Gulf of Mexico.
During this cruise we are examining the benthic communities around the IXTOC wellhead which produced a large spill off of Mexico close to 40 years ago. By doing this we hope to learn about the changes we may expect in the future around the DwH wellhead.
Today just so happens to be my 32nd birthday, and I thought it only appropriate that I write the blog for today. While it is a little disappointing that I cannot have a beer today, being out at sea with a good group of scientists, and by now my friends, more than makes up for it. I actually got a cake with candles, and per Mexican tradition took a large bite out of the cake before cutting it. I am still trying to get the last remnants of icing out of my beard.
Things have started to wind down somewhat now as the end of the cruise comes into sight. The breaks in between stations have gotten longer as we begin to make our way back to US waters. Everybody has managed to catch up on all of the sleep they missed out on during the first parts of the cruise, more or less, so people are more talkative (and coherent).
The work is going easier since everybody has found their rhythm, but today is especially hot, so most everybody is keeping inside when they can. The seas are very calm which makes the work easier as well; however, there is hardly any wind. The bottoms of my boots have begun to melt off, so I guess it is time to retire them when we get back to shore.
Our lab alone has already collected several hundred samples which I will drive back to school when we dock on Monday. Once there the slow, tedious process of separating all of the animals out of the mud and identifying them will begin. It is always amazing to think how less than two weeks of sample collection will result in over a year of work back in the lab by several people. I am looking forward to being home with my girlfriend and dog, but I will miss the excellent Mexican food aboard the ship as well as our science party and Mexican counterparts. I hope to stay in touch with my new friends and will most likely see many of them in the future as I continue my work in the deep GoM.
Cover Photo: Adriana Gaytan-Caballero & Travis Washburn search for benthic infauna including worms, crustaceans, and mollusks from the southern Gulf of Mexico (Credit: Sara Lincoln).