Under the Surface at Pensacola Beach

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Last month, I ventured just outside the Forgotten Coast to Pensacola Beach. I was serving as videographer for Matt Roush and FSU Headlines.  The piece was on research by Marcus Huettel and Joel Kostka on some important little critters (we love important little critters), really little ones.  The sand was a gleaming white, reflecting the sun onto me and burning my feet.  Parents and children swam in the water while a row of bulldozers sat idle with bored cleanup workers resting in the shade of their machines’ canopies.  At a glance, it didn’t look like the beach had recently been covered in a mat of crude oil.

Drs. Huettel and Kostka took a little more than a glance, though.  They and their graduate students dug two trenches in the sand, one on each side of a tent set up by a family right next to the designated research area.  I wondered if those vacationers looked into those trenches and saw what we saw, what you’ll see in the video above.  It looked like a Viennetta ice cream cake- clean white vanilla with little streaks of chocolate.  At least the oil was a little deeper than where a sandcastle moat would be dug.

The little critters being studied eat oil; microbes who may provide us with a safe alternative to products like Corexit.  Corexit disperses oil, spreading it thin enough to be considered safe, with a low enough parts-per-million in the water.  Corexit itself is a solution of mysterious composition (one disclosed ingredient is petroleum distillate) which is potentially toxic.  It’s difficult to tell, as few people know what is in it.  Of course, all of those microbes are part of an ecosystem, and their feeding on this abundant food source and thriving and multiplying may have consequences as well.  Intuitively, the solution nature has honed over millions of years should work more effectively and with less harm to the Gulf than one that seems like it was designed to quickly disperse oil and get it out of our sight.  We’ll see what the research finds.

Comments below:



About Rob Diaz de Villegas

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for WFSU-TV, covering outdoors and ecology. Early in his television career, Rob focused on music production. After a couple of years of producing and editing Spanish and bilingual music video shows in San Antonio, Rob returned to Tallahassee in 2002 to resume production of his local music performance show, OutLoud. From that, he transitioned to local music documentaries, until one day he found himself standing in a muddy salt marsh with a camera, and his life was changed forever. Rob created this blog for a National Science Foundation funded marine biology project called In the Grass, On the Reef. No one asked Rob to expand on this work and cover all ecology in our area, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Subsequent projects under the Ecology Blog umbrella include EcoShakespeare (funded by WNET and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and Roaming the Red Hills (funded by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy). His most recent documentary follows the lives of four red wolf pups born at the Tallahassee Museum, apex predators that once hunted in our local wild spaces. Rob is married with two young sons, and they try to have outdoor family adventures as often as possible (you might see them on the blog from time to time).