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Are gulf’s fish babies OK?

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By Jenna Duncan

$2.7M grant to fund study on how oil affects life in water

No one yet knows how the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is impacting biological development in larvae and fish.

So, with $2.7 million from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, three University of North Texas researchers will spend the next three years looking at how the oil in the water is impacting animals and the water in the gulf.

“I’ve always been interested in the development environments for the animals and how that might impact their fitness and survival,” said Dane Crossley, a professor who is working on the project.

His portion of the research will focus on how well juvenile fish function in the wild after being exposed to oil, like how they swim and eat.

Professor Warren Burggren, who until recently served as provost, will look at the early life stages, when fish are still larvae.

Burggren said this portion of the life cycle is intriguing because if the larvae never become adults, it’s hard to tell if they aren’t surviving since they are too small to wash up on shore.

“You can walk along a beach and see no animals and think everything is fine, not knowing that underneath the waters the animals are failing to reproduce,” Burggren said.

Biology professor Aaron Roberts will look how the combination of ultraviolet light and the oil in the water impacts eggs.

For their work, all three will have to travel to the ocean at some point, and Crossley will also work in labs at the University of Miami and at a lab in Port Aransas.

The findings will help scientists learn more about how oil spills affect development of species in the Gulf of Mexico, instead of focusing on fish later in the life cycle. They anticipate the projects will be done in the three-year period, but Crossley said he hopes they can continue their research beyond that scope.

“Every time you complete an experiment or project, you come up with a new one,” Crossley said. “From those things, there’s going to be a tremendous number of things to follow up on.”


JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.