Special Reports

Experts seek $100M for Gulf research, aid

ST. PETERSBURG — Some of Florida’s brightest scientists convened Wednesday to discuss what steps are needed to best address what’s happening ecologically to the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

They figured it would require $100 million in the first year for adequate research, they decided late in the day during meetings at the University of South Florida’s St. Pete campus, according to Vickie Chachere, USF’s news manager.

William Hogarth, dean of the USF College of Marine Science, said the money might come from a combination of BP, whose runaway oil well has caused the spill, and the federal government.

The money would be needed for research, including vessels, infrastructure, better modeling and data systems, pre-spill and post-spill impact assessment, and ecosystem remediation, Chachere said.

Scientists were meeting to attempt to set priorities for short- and long-term studies of the natural dynamics of the Gulf, and what effect the oil spill — which one scientist said now has grown to the size of South Carolina — is having on its environment.

“Florida has a tremendous fishery; we do have the best fishery in the Gulf,” Hogarth said. “It’s a multi-billion dollar fishery.”

A press conference is set for Friday to outline researchers’ most recent scientific findings, USF officials said.

There was some discussion of subsurface oil, which has been a source of controversy.

Ian MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said, “All of us are struggling with not understanding the short-term and long-term effects” of deep sea plumes of oil.

“I think we need to be careful, but we also need to believe in our science, and say when we think things are true,” he said.

“Scientists are always ready to be wrong and doubt ourselves. At the same time, we’re ready to put the information out there, and I think that’s one thing this oil spill academic task force is determined to do, is not only be a source, but also a resource for knowledge.”

Two separate groups met at USF’s College of Marine Science: The Oil Spill Academic Task Force, formed by the Florida Board of Governors to focus on the crisis in the Gulf; and the Florida Institute of Oceanography, established to support and enhance Florida’s coastal marine, oceanography and related programs.

The scientists, who had been communicating by telephone conference call and via electronic means, were glad to finally meet in person, they said.

The group included representatives from the University of Miami, Florida International University, NOVA Southeastern University, the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Florida Institute of Technology, Eckerd College, Florida A&M University and USF, among others.

The oil spill in the Gulf began in April after a fire and explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig and well, off the coast of Louisiana.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.