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GULF OF MEXICO, 22 MILES SOUTH OF MOBILE BAY -- An amber cloud of sargassum floated at the water's surface, an endless line stretching toward the horizon.
The floating seaweed amounts to the most ephemeral of the Gulf's aquatic habitats, gathering in patches that range from the size of a backyard pool to swaths measured in hundreds of acres. It drifts at the mercy of wind and tides and collects along the offshore rip lines where different currents meet. Sometimes, it gets pushed ashore, where it rots and stinks, upsetting beachgoers.
The same forces that push sargassum patches around in the Gulf are now pushing oil slicks and emulsified goop the consistency of Hershey's syrup.
It is inevitable that the two will meet. When they do, scientists say, the sargassum will die.
USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory team returns from bluefin tuna larvae testing trip
BILOXI -- Researchers from The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory returned Thursday from a 12-day trip aboard the research vessel Tommy Munro where they collected samples of bluefin tuna larvae in the Gulf of Mexico. Bluefin tuna is one of the ocean's most endangered fish, according to the research lab.
Because of the magnitude of the oil-affected waters that resulted from the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig over a month ago, the larvae are in a precarious position, according to the lab, which is in Ocean Springs.
Research was centered around the loop current, a swath of rapidly circulating water that stretches from the Caribbean into the Gulf and under the tip of Florida, said researcher Jim Franks. Samples of plankton and sargassum, an essential nursery habitat, were also gathered.
Wildlife to bare brunt of oil spill damage
...This is spawning season for most Gulf fish and other marine life. While adult fish may be able to move to areas where oil is not present, the eggs, larvae and fingerlings of everything from bluefin tuna to red snapper to king mackerel to brown shrimp are not so mobile. And oil kills them.
And it's not just fish and shrimp. Some of the most heavily oiled areas, and the areas where plumes of oil are suspended beneath the surface, are areas heavily used by Gulf's population of sperm whales and their calves.
Of equal concern is the oil's impact on some of the most important habitat in the open Gulf for those small fish and other creatures.
Sargassum, a floating algae that forms large mats on the ocean's surface, provides crucial habitat for scores of species in the Gulf. Scientists have documented at least 140 species of fish using sargassum, and it is vital habitat for juvenile blue marlin as well as most fish, crabs and other animals of the open ocean. Sargassum mats are feeding grounds for larger marine species, including sea turtles.
That sargassum and all the creatures living in its “leaves” are particularly vulnerable to oil on the surface.
Fisheries managers say it's impossible at this point to gauge the current impacts of the oil flood on marine life in the Gulf, much less quantify future damage...