Tallahassee, FL, United States
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Zengel S.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Zengel S.,Research Planning Inc. RPI | Bernik B.M.,Tulane University | Rutherford N.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | And 3 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected hundreds of kilometers of coastal wetland shorelines, including salt marshes with persistent heavy oiling that required intensive shoreline "cleanup" treatment. Oiled marsh treatment involves a delicate balance among: Removing oil, speeding the degradation of remaining oil, protecting wildlife, fostering habitat recovery, and not causing further ecological damage with treatment. To examine the effectiveness and ecological effects of treatment during the emergency response, oiling characteristics and ecological parameters were compared over two years among heavily oiled test plots subject to: manual treatment, mechanical treatment, natural recovery (no treatment, oiled control), as well as adjacent reference conditions. An additional experiment compared areas with and without vegetation planting following treatment. Negative effects of persistent heavy oiling on marsh vegetation, intertidal invertebrates, and shoreline erosion were observed. In areas without treatment, oiling conditions and negative effects for most marsh parameters did not considerably improve over two years. Both manual and mechanical treatment were effective at improving oiling conditions and vegetation characteristics, beginning the recovery process, though recovery was not complete by two years. Mechanical treatment had additional negative effects of mixing oil into the marsh soils and further accelerating erosion. Manual treatment appeared to strike the right balance between improving oiling and habitat conditions while not causing additional detrimental effects. However, even with these improvements, marsh periwinkle snails showed minimal signs of recovery through two years, suggesting that some ecosystem components may lag vegetation recovery. Planting following treatment quickened vegetation recovery and reduced shoreline erosion. Faced with comparable marsh oiling in the future, we would recommend manual treatment followed by planting. We caution against the use of intensive treatment methods with lesser marsh oiling. Oiled controls (no treatment "set-asides") are essential for judging marsh treatment effectiveness and ecological effects; we recommend their use when applying intensive treatment methods. © This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

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