Quantifying a marine ecosystem’s response to a catastrophic oil spill

Thomas, G., Archer, B., Cameron, T, Hepburn, I., McGenity, T.J., Miliou, A., Tsimpidis, T., Whitby, C., McKew, B.A. Quantifying a marine ecosystem’s response to a catastrophic oil spill. Sixth International Conference on Industrial & Hazardous Waste Management 2018.



Crude oil production currently exceeds 4 billion tonnes per annum, with >1.3 million tonnes entering the marine environment each year. On the 10th September 2017 the vessel Agia Zoni II sank in the Saronic Gulf, Greece, releasing an estimated 2,500 tonnes of crude oil, which heavily contaminated the coasts of Salamina and the Athens Riviera. Sediment and water samples from contaminated beaches (and uncontaminated control sites) were taken shortly after the incident and thereafter monthly over the following seven months. Here, we will use a combination of gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and molecular techniques to measure changes in hydrocarbon composition and concentration in relation to the in situ microbial community composition. The overall aim of this project is to quantify the efficacy of the clean-up operation and the extent of the indigenous microorganisms for natural biodegradation of petroleum hydrocarbons. Specifically, we will monitor the effects of the oil spill on Bacterial, Archaeal, and Fungal communities, using qPCR and Next Generation Sequencing targeting phylogenetic and functional genes. This analysis will identify those microbes involved in hydrocarbon biodegradation of the pollutants, as well as those key functional groups of microbes that may have been impacted negatively (e.g. from direct toxicity or by being out-competed by oil-degrading microbes). Furthermore, this study aims to quantify any long-term effects of the oil spill on the wider marine food web, by measuring any differences in primary and secondary production. This incident has provided the rare opportunity to study a large oil spill in situ; enabling the direct measurement of the environmental effects, and such data may assist in the design of better oil remediation and management strategies in the future.