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$15.5M to 4 groups for Gulf of Mexico research

Kate Mercer/Press-Register
The Press-Register

Four teams of scientists are getting a total of $15.6 million from BP oil spill fines to study fish, other sea life and birds in the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials said Wednesday.

Two of the teams getting five-year grants are based in Florida and one each is in Mississippi and Alabama, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release. It said they involve 20 institutions including universities, federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations in all five Gulf states and beyond.

The largest grant is $6 million for a team led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That group will combine habitat and water quality information with three reef fish surveys into a comprehensive database to improve stock assessments. Among other things, they plan to look at year-to-year trends from 1992 to 2024.

Mississippi State University is getting $3.9 million to investigate how three species of birds at risk of becoming endangered or threatened respond to different methods of fire management. The study of black rail, yellow rail and mottled duck would also create high-resolution maps of high marsh habitats across the five Gulf states and look at where the birds stay and how many of them are there are during breeding and wintering seasons.

The University of South Alabama is getting nearly $2.9 million to improve management of oyster, blue crab and spotted seatrout by seeing how they respond to human and environmental changes.

“These species have provided valuable food, raw material, recreation, and cultural resources to humans since the Gulf was settled. Today, the ecosystem services provided by these species are threatened, or near collapse in Gulf estuaries,” that group said in its project description.

A group led by Nova Southeastern University in Florida is getting nearly $2.8 million to identify long-term trends in sea life in what it describes as the Gulf of Mexico’s largest and least-known habitat, deep open waters. That group will use nets and sound waves to sample the area and study fish, shrimp, cephalopods such as octopuses and squid, and other animals. Aspects they’ll look at include overall population and size frequency, petroleum contamination and genetic diversity.

The four projects were among 68 proposals to the RESTORE Science Program, NOAA spokesman Jerry Slaff said in an email. The RESTORE Act authorizes use of fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

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