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Mission Blue: Team of Leading Scientists Explores Oil Spill’s Legacy

PENSACOLA, Fla.–Scientists and representatives of several organizations head into the northern Gulf of Mexico from Pensacola this week on an expedition led by Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and Dr. Thomas Shirley, professor at the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.


The expedition aims to explore and document several areas west and east of the site where the BP Deepwater Horizon released nearly five million barrels of oil from a depth of 5,000 feet, beginning April 20, 2010.

“Our goal is to identify areas with potential for Gulf ecosystem recovery,” said Dr. Earle, founder of SEAlliance and recipient of the 2009 TEDPrize that developed into Mission Blue, an international ocean conservation movement. “That is going to require protection of places healthy enough to replenish and rebuild populations. What’s happened here is far from over for the clams and oysters and other sea life critical to a healthy Gulf of Mexico.”

The fate and impact of the spilled oil, gas, and dispersants applied following the blowout into the Gulf are the subject of intense discussion by experts. The expedition team, assembled under the broad banner of the Mission Blue initiative, seeks answers to questions about the current status of key species and ecosystems. What they learn will be compared with historical data gathered in the region since the 1950s, archived at the Harte Research Institute.

Other research participants include: Edith “Edie” Widder and Brandy Nelson, Ocean Research & Conservation Association; Carl Safina, Blue Ocean Institute; Eric Hoffmayer, University of Southern Mississippi and Larry McKinney, Douglas Weaver, and Harriet Nash of the Harte Research Institute.

Research dives are planned using a Dual Deepworker submersible made available to the expedition by the Waitt Institute. Support for the expedition is also provided by the National Geographic Society, Google Inc., and Hope Spots LLC.

The team will share updates and media from the expedition, including photographs and video, here on the National Geographic News Watch blog. In addition, the public can track the expedition and access updates on the Ocean in Google Earth.

Operations will be filmed for inclusion in a nonprofit, feature-length documentary about Mission Blue and global ocean conservation issues, with particular focus on the Gulf.

Photo of Sylvia Earle by Tyrone Turner