By GHM Staff

Perhaps no one knew the awesome power of a T-shirt until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After we all learned that the well couldn’t be capped quickly and would flow freely for months, the Gulf Coast region went into shock. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation shifted into action.

Within a few days, Guy Harvey designed special edition “Save Our Gulf” T-shirts. His apparel partner, AFTCO, generously committed to print 50,000 of the shirts. They had a hunch the shirts would sell quickly but no one predicted they’d sell all 50,000 in just 30 days, generating $500,000 for the GHOF. In a testament to their commitment to conservation, 100 percent of that money was awarded to scientists to study the effects of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Below is an outline of the incredible work scientists are doing with the money raised through the power of T-shirts. If you bought one of the special edition T’s, you contributed to the good work of some dedicated scientists. Congratulations!

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Dr. Jim Franks, Senior Research Scientist – Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, University of Southern Mississippi Studies of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico:

The goal of this project is to retrospectively identify distinct bluefin tuna spawning locations and estimate locations of bluefin tuna larvae encounters with spilled oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The researchers from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory will estimate age and growth rates of bluefin tuna larvae collected from the Loop Current boundary region, associated eddies, and adjacent Gulf of Mexico waters. They will then identify bluefin tuna spawning locations using the real-time, Intra-Americas Sea Nowcast/Forecast System (IASNFS) model to track (hindcast) passive transport of known-age larvae from collection locations and dates. This includes identifying surface oceanographic parameters at discrete spawning locations and determine spawning associations with oceanographic events such as the Loop Current, Loop Current eddies and topographic features such as the Yucatan Channel and the upper Gulf of Mexico continental slope. This will help the team estimate locations of known-age larvae encounters with oil-impacted surface waters using larval transport models coupled with archived mapping and satellite imagery of surface oil locations.

Dr. Robert Hueter, Director – Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory.

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Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Epipelagic and Large Coastal Sharks and Bony Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Even before the Deepwater Horizon incident, sharks of the Gulf of Mexico were in trouble because of overfishing in directed and by-catch fisheries. This project will assess some of the impacts of the oil spill on the biology and health of open-ocean and large coastal sharks and other fishes, such as billfishes and tunas, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. In collaboration with other institutions, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists are conducting four research cruises to collect tissue samples from oceanic fishes in the vicinity of the surface oil and subsurface plumes, and in control areas far from the oil. The scientists are looking for certain species that may have been affected by the oil especially in the DeSoto Canyon area – species such as tiger, silky, and mako sharks. The Mote scientists also plan to attempt blood sampling from live whale sharks that live in the Gulf, to look at the possible effects of the spill on this rare species, the first time this has been attempted in the wild. Opportunistic sampling of offshore fishes that enter coastal waters also will be conducted along the central-to-southwest Florida Gulf Coast. In this research, live sharks will be caught, sampled, and whenever possible, tagged and released to track animal movements in relation to the oil spill’s distribution and dynamics. Laboratory assays back at Mote and the University of North Florida will determine the levels of exposure of sampled specimens from oil-impacted versus less impacted areas. This two-year research project will provide the basis for long-term monitoring of the oil spill’s effects on large oceanic fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. John Paul, Distinguished University Professor – Marine Microbiology Laboratory, University of South Florida.

Toxicity and Mutagenicity of the Deepwater Horizon Contaminated Waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the surface waters of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico no longer have visible oil slicks or tar balls resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the residual “invisible” oil in the subsurface waters can still be toxic to marine life. The goal of this project is to determine the general toxicity and genotoxicity (degree something damages or mutates DNA) of oil-contaminated waters in coastal and offshore environments of the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial fish larvae from nearby spawning grounds are particularly sensitive to DNA damaging petrochemicals that can cause heritable changes in fishery brood stocks. Such information will be invaluable in determining the biological impact of the spill, the success of remediation efforts, the potential danger to water recreation users, and potential impact on living marine resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Dean Grubbs, Assistant Scholar Scientist – Coastal and Marine Laboratory, Florida State University.

Relative Abundance, Distribution, and Community Structure of Sharks and Large Teleosts in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico with Reference to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

This project will focus on three tasks related to the oil spill. First, researchers from the FSUCML were conducting randomized surveys of the relative abundance of sharks and teleosts (fish other than sharks and rays) in the Big Bend region of Florida for three years prior to the oil spill. They will continue these surveys in spring 2011 to examine trends in abundance and distribution following the spill. The researchers also collected biopsy samples to aid in modeling the regional food web. They will continue to collect and will begin analyzing these samples to assess long-term effects of the oil spill on the ecology of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico such as changes in the food web. Bioassays will also be conducted with colleagues from the University of North Florida to determine regional exposure of sharks and bony fishes to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pollutants associated with oil.

George Burgess, Director – Florida Program for Shark Research, University of Florida.

The Effects of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) on Trophic Ecology and Movements of Juvenile Sharks in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico.

The basis of this study is to monitor levels of biomarkers in juvenile bonnethead and Atlantic sharpnose sharks in the Cedar Key region of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Many species of shark are known to use shallow coastal bays as nursery areas, which may improve juvenile survival by either reducing predation rates, or by improved feeding opportunities. The oil spill likely will lead to elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in coastal areas of the west coast of Florida. These fish can show cumulative sub-lethal and lethal effects of oil contamination. This project will relate differences in movements and foraging ecology between bonnetheads and sharpnose sharks to levels of PAH biomarkers in their tissues in order to evaluate how life history and behavior may influence susceptibility to oil contaminants.

Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Professor, Director – Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

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The GHRI conducts multidisciplinary, worldwide research aimed at providing targeted scientific information needed for the conservation and management of sharks and billfishes. This research program encompasses field and laboratory-based studies on the migration, reproduction, habitat requirements, genetic stock structure, and biodiversity of these overexploited marine top predators. Included in this program is a study of the impacts of subsurface oil from the BP oil spill on deep-sea sharks. As apex predators in the deep ocean, these sharks are ideally suited to serve as integrative models of the effects of oil as it descends into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and works its way through the food chain. GHRI and its collaborators from Florida International University and NOAA will use a combination of state-of-the-art genetic and tracking technologies to provide basic information on deep-sea shark biology in the Gulf of Mexico and a baseline data set for assessing long-term impacts of the spilled oil on the deep sea ecosystem

* The $500,000 grant money was generated through the sale of 50,000 special edition Guy Harvey “Save Our Gulf” T-shirts, which sold out in just four weeks. Each shirt generated a $10 donation to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation’s “Save Our Gulf” initiative, which was made possible by the generosity of Guy Harvey, Inc., our T-shirt licensee AFTCO Bluewater, and our valued retail partners.

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