NOAA funds study to explore impact of oil spills on blue crab development

A new study by scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will help determine the potential impact of an oil spill on the development of the blue crab. NOAA and the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire has awarded a $150,000 grant for a one-year study of the effects of chemical dispersants and dispersed oil on larvae of the commercially important blue crab, a keystone species of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast, and its larvae.

"You don't have to kill a crab outright to remove it from the population," said lead researcher Dr. Eric Schott of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. "We want to understand the impact of chemical dispersant and chemically-dispersed oil on the larval crab's ability to swim, feed, molt, and handle stress. If any of those are impacted, it's likely that animal will not survive to be a juvenile crab."

After hatching from eggs, crabs go through several larval stages of development, swimming in the coastal ocean and feeding on zooplankton before returning the estuaries and developing into the familiar crab shape. The study will expose the crab larvae to low doses of oil and dispersant to see how it affects their ability to swim, feed, molt, and respond to stress--all essential for making it to adulthood. 

The one-year study is a collaboration between University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researchers, including Eric Schott and Sook Chung of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology and Carys Mitchelmore and Andrew Heyes of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

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