|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
A thick, 22-mile plume of oil discovered by researchers off the BP spill site was nearing an underwater canyon, where it could poison the foodchain for sealife in the waters off Florida.
The discovery by researchers on the University of South Florida College of Marine Science's Weatherbird II vessel is the second significant undersea plume reported since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20. The plume is more than 6 miles wide and its presence was reported Thursday.
The cloud was nearing a large underwater canyon whose currents fuel the foodchain in Gulf waters off Florida and could potentially wash the tiny plants and animals that feed larger organisms in a stew of toxic chemicals, another researcher said Friday.
Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said the DeSoto Canyon off the Florida Panhandle sends nutrient-rich water from the deep sea up to shallower waters.
McKinney said that in a best-case scenario, oil riding the current out of the canyon would rise close enough to the surface to be broken down by sunlight. But if the plume remains relatively intact, it could sweep down the west coast of Florida as a toxic soup as far as the Keys, through what he called some of the most productive parts of the Gulf.
Hollander said the oil they detected has dissolved into the water, and is no longer visible, leading to fears from researchers that the toxicity from the oil and dispersants could pose a big danger to fish larvae and creatures that filter the waters for food.
"There are two elements to it," Hollander said. "The plume reaching waters on the continental shelf could have a toxic effect on fish larvae, and we also may see a long term response as it cascades up the food web."
Dispersants contain surfactants, which are similar to dishwashing soap.
A Louisiana State University researcher who has studied their effects on marine life said that by breaking oil into small particles, surfactants make it easier for fish and other animals to soak up the oil's toxic chemicals. That can impair the animals' immune systems and cause reproductive problems.