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USC grads helping with Gulf oil spill

Susan S. Bell is chair and professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of South Florida; she attended USC from 1976 - 79 and earned a Ph.D. in marine science.

Bell is working on a National Science Foundation-funded project to investigate potential oil-spill impacts on food webs of sandy beach ecosystems. She also has been working on other projects on sea-grass beds and mangrove systems along the southwest Florida coast that provide an excellent view of conditions before the spill. If oil arrives at these sites, the research can be used in impact assessment.

“Right now we have little idea of the extent of the oiling of coasts and the associated impacts,” she said. “We seem to be working with an event that is unique in many aspects (size, duration) and, thus, predicting outcomes is difficult. The state of Florida has a huge coastline characterized by a combination of extensive vegetation and sandy beaches; while sandy beaches are currently the major areas of oiling in Florida, there is deep concern about the oil moving into mangrove, salt-marsh and sea-grass dominated areas. We will probably be measuring impacts both environmentally and economically for an extended period of time.”

Linda Walters, a professor of biology at the University of Central Florida, received her master’s degree in biology from USC in 1986 and her Ph.D. in 1991.

She has been involved in research on the east coast of Florida for the past decade. In the Indian River Lagoon, Walters and her students and colleagues have studied biology, ecology and restoration of oyster reefs and associated biodiversity, mangroves, sea grasses, invasive bivalves and barnacles, and marsh plants.

“I have provided maps and information for pre/post oil monitoring protocols for the east coast of Florida for both the National Park Service and FL DEP,” she said. “Much of our collected data will be used as baseline.”

Walters and Dr. Matt Gilg (a USC alum and professor at the University of North Florida) have collaborated on research on invasive species, looking at genetic diversities and species tolerances. They are applying for BP funds available to Florida universities to look at the effects of oil and dispersants on these same organisms.

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