The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem

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.

A major new initiative in this proposal is to carry out DWH oil and Corexit 9500 exposure studies designed to establish sublethal responses of such exposures in multiple pathways (dietary, water, and sediment) in marine fish, and microbes. Short-term effects of oil spills on fishes are generally clear and readily documented. Long-term effects and recovery processes of impacted species and ecosystems are much more difficult to recognize and demonstrate. Readily-recognizable endpoints that serve as measures of effect are not necessarily pertinent in terms of long-term ecological relevance.

To address this critical issue, researchers are using a suite of endpoints that allow bridging exposure-related observations along a continuum of responses. Molecular biomarkers provide avenues by which scientists can directly measure biologically significant responses such as immune system function, acute-phase protein responses, fertility potential and genotoxicity. They empirically assess effects of a stressor, rather than simply identifying whether an organism has been exposed. Second, many biomarkers are very sensitive, allowing documentation of the onset of harmful effects long before the critical stage is reached. There is ample literature documenting the impacts of oil spills on various biomarkers of exposure and their ultimate effects on marine fishes. A study of killifish from the oil-impacted nearshore environments has linked PAH exposures to genomic changes and alterations in protein expression.

Studies from a number of previous oil spill events such as Exxon Valdez clearly demonstrate immune system suppression can persist in marine fishes more than ten years after the initial event. Naturally, a decrease in ability to exhibit a competent immune response will jeopardize the sustainability of a population. Further, exposure to PAHs can have significant sublethal effects on reproductive capacity of individuals. In fishes, PAHs are metabolically transformed, but the metabolites are toxic and can cause cell damage, mutagenesis, teratogenesis, and carcinogenesis. Fish immune cells and organs associated with the circulatory system partly act as filter and are exceptionally vulnerable to toxicants via this route of exposure but also via the neuro-endocrine system. The critical questions are (1) how can immunotoxic effects be assessed most effectively and efficiently?, (2) what are the mechanisms leading to immunotoxicity?, and (3) what are the implications for immunocompetence and fitness?

Our researchers are answering these questions and more at the Mote Marine Aquaculture Park and at Wageningen University with ongoing exposure studies.


If you are an investigator with C-IMAGE, you can visit the Geodata Portal for access to the exposure study data and experiment timeline.

Task Partners

  • Mote

    Mote Marine Laboratory-Mote Aquaculture Park

  • WUR

    Wageningen University & Research

  • UWF

    University of West Florida

  • USF College Marine Science

    USF College Marine Science


    Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Meet our researchers

Ecotoxicology News & Products

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Exposure Study in FishSens Magazine

Exposure Study in FishSens Magazine

Years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists around the Gulf of Mexico are...


C-IMAGE Research on NPR

C-IMAGE Research on NPR

Steve Newborn of WUSF radio (NPR affiliate for Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota) tr...


Fish Exposure Studies Begin at Mote Marine Laboratory

Fish Exposure Studies Begin at Mote Marine La…

Understanding the immediate impact of oil spills on fish is one of the goals of GoMRI...


Toxicity of DwH Oil and Corexit 9500 to Coral Larvae

Toxicity of DwH Oil and Corexit 9500 to Coral…

Abstract Acute catastrophic events can cause significant damage to marine environmen...


Kristina Deak, Guy Harvey Scholar

Kristina Deak, Guy Harvey Scholar

Florida SeaGrant has implemented a "Friday Interview Series" with the 2014 Guy Harvey...


Audio Slideshow Is Now Available

Audio Slideshow Is Now Available

Mind Open Media reporter David Levin sits down with C-IMAGE co-PI Dr. Dana Wetzel to ...


Ecotoxicology Publications

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Molecular characterization of benthic foraminifera communities from the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico shelf and slope following the Deepwater Horizon event

Molecular characterization of benthic foramin…

Abstract: Benthic foraminifera are globally distributed protozoa in the world's ocea...


Was the extreme and wide-spread MOSSFA event of DwH unique?

Was the extreme and wide-spread MOSSFA event …

A recent publication from Wageningen University in the Netherlands performed a meta-a...


Quantification of the effect of oil layer thickness on entrainment of surface oil

Quantification of the effect of oil layer thi…

This study quantifies the effect of oil layer thickness on entrainment and dispersion...


Using dispersants after oil spills: impacts on the composition and activity of microbial communities

Using dispersants after oil spills: impacts o…

UDispersants are globally and routinely applied as an emergency response to oil spill...


Sand patties provide evidence for the presence of Deepwater Horizon oil on the beaches of the West Florida Shelf

Sand patties provide evidence for the presenc…

A new study out of the University of South Florida and the University of Tennessee ha...


Toxic waters reach NE GoM

Toxic waters reach NE GoM

C-IMAGE co-PI Dr. John Paul received some media attention earlier this month when his...


Podcasts from The Loop

The Loop is a series of podcasts which take an in depth look at C-IMAGE research. Partnering with Mind Open Media reporters Ari Daniel Shapiro and David Levin, our researchers share the importance of their studies and how they help our understanding of oil spills. David and Ari have produced eight podcasts and have more in the queue. The podcasts are linked below. Plug in and learn about our research!

Listen to More Podcasts!