The Oil Spill One Year Later.

An interview with Dr. Jorge Brenner, Associate Director of Marine Science

As a marine scientist based in Texas for The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Jorge Brenner is particularly interested in ecosystem services—or the ability of nature to provide for people—sustainability and the dynamics of biodiversity. In January of 2011, he was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences’ committee studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Dr. Brenner earned a Ph.D. in marine sciences from the Catalonia Polytechnic University in 2007, a M.S. in environmental engineering, and a B.S. in biochemical engineering and aquatic resources, from the Monterrey Technology Institute University in 1997 and 1995, respectively. He has worked extensively throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean; experience which provides him with a unique combination of international and-local perspectives on marine conservation issues.

Dr. Jorge Brenner, Associate Director of Marine Science, The Nature Conservancy

Our first and most pressing question: Do you have hope that the Gulf of Mexico will recover?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

Dr. Brenner: Absolutely. The Gulf of Mexico is an extremely resilient body of water, but we must take immediate conservation action if we want it to ever fully recover. Organizations like The Nature Conservancy and the Harte Research Institute are already invested in conservation programs. We need to make sure the fines that responsible parties ultimately pay are directed where they’re needed—back into the Gulf, into conservation and recovery programs.

What is the goal of the National Academy of Sciences committee you’re serving on?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

The committee was created to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on ecosystem services in the Gulf of Mexico. The 16-member team I’m a part of is charged with evaluating how the spill will impact the Gulf’s large marine ecosystems, including commercial and recreational fisheries and critical natural systems like oyster reefs, wetlands and coral reefs. The final report, due in the fall of 2012. will provide a framework to assist federal agencies and others in assessing effects of the oil spill on ecosystem services within the context of other human activities.

What is your background working on the Gulf of Mexico?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

I am from Veracruz, Mexico, which is located on the Gulf. My childhood inspired my work in marine sciences. I took my first diving course in Veracruz in 1992, and became fascinated by the world beneath the water. Shortly after, I began studying corals and marine science and decided to pursue marine science as a career.

How important is the Gulf of Mexico to the U.S. economy?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

The Gulf of Mexico is almost incalculably valuable to the economy and well being of the United States. The Gulf comprises the 29th largest economy in the world. It provides the U.S. with a huge portion of the seafood we eat, including nearly 70 percent of our oysters. We rely on the Gulf for one-third of the oil and gas we use as a nation. And between tourism, recreation, fisheries and energy, the Gulf of Mexico sustains more than 1 million jobs.

What benefits does the Gulf provide to people, beyond energy, food and fun?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

The Gulf of Mexico supports a wide variety of life in and above the water. It’s composed of oyster and coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, wetlands, barrier islands and deep-ocean environments that sustain not only marine life, but human communities, as well. Gulf habitats provide protection from storms and hurricanes and filter water in deltas and estuaries

Are there still visible impacts from the spill?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

Yes, you still see oil on beaches and marshes, especially marshes because they’re more difficult to clean. There are tar balls present, but it’s hard to discern if they’re a result of the spill or if they’re naturally occurring—there are more than 900 natural leaks in the floor of the Gulf that we know about.

Are any species in particular still suffering as a result of the spill?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

Oil is still on coastlines, but those impacted systems are recovering faster because steps were taken—and are still underway—to clean them up. The impact on species however, will take longer to fully understand, especially bottom-dwelling species like groundfish or sea turtles and marine mammals. The reality is that we still don’t know the full impacts of the oil spill or how much time the species that live in the Gulf of Mexico will need to recover.

I’ve been seeing Gulf shrimp in my neighborhood grocery story. Is it safe to eat?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

The Environmental Protection Agency has established very rigorous standards for Gulf seafood to ensure public safety. If it’s being sold in grocery stores, the product likely meets those standards. Chances are, the shrimp you’re seeing was caught in the areas of the Gulf that weren’t impacted by the spill, including off the coast of Texas.

So if our seafood is safe, and no oil ever washed up in Texas, why should people here be concerned?

Dr. Jorge Brenner:

We don’t know what the long-term impacts of the spill will be to marine life in the Gulf, and we don’t know how fisheries will ultimately be affected. A substantial decrease in fish and shellfish production could take a toll in the entire Gulf. The bays and estuaries of Texas can play an important role by serving as nurseries and repositories—sort of a “marine bank”—for the rest of the Gulf. We need to invest in the conservation throughout the areas unaffected by the spill.

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