Oil Slick – the redeeming feature

The much maligned oil slick in the Gulf can be a blessing in disguise too. The marine microorganisms feed on hydrocarbons and other components of the oil and register a high growth rate and therefore are a greater source of nourishment for the fish and other aquatic life forms. This may lead to a much greater seafood production than in usual circumstances.
It has been observed that the micro-organisms found universally in water columns and water sediments of the ocean are in abundance in the areas of high hydrocarbon concentration, some of these micro-organisms constitute an important link in the food chain and the productivity cycle.
Since micro flora are actively oxidizing hydrocarbons in the ocean, oil may be considered as another source of carbon for use in the life cycle of micro flora. Nutrients cycled by bacteria may also improve growth of photo planktons. The best evidence in this regard is that a creel census in the Corpus Christi Bay, off Louisina coast in the USA showed that the region around oil platforms yielded highest catch per unit effort by fishermen. Similar results were also reported on the Louisiana continental shelf. It was also observed that fish yield over an extended period of time was directly proportional to the production of oil.
Experiment through field studies involving micro-organisms suggest that the oil is broken into its first degradation product namely the fatty acids which in turn enter directly into the marine food chain. Initially the plankton will die out due to unavailability of sunlight owing to the clouding of ocean surface. This will result in fish starvation. After some time, when the oil is broken into fatty acids and glycerol, the fatty acids will enter the food cycle. This will trigger a rapid rise in the plankton population. Planktons being the ideal fish food, there will be a boom in the yield. However the whole process may require more than a year.
Adult lobsters also show positive feeding response to the fragmented petroleum products abundant in oil from natural seeps, thus increasing their reproduction. An American researcher studying mussels (marine shelled animals) observed their increased survival rates on exposure to oil in aquaria.
Although such beneficial effects of oil pollution are expected to be dismal as compared to the havoc it wreaks over the environment, the fact that this will be useful & opens an interesting field of future research in the area of marine oil pollution.
written by A Husain


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