Data gathered during our Phase I sampling indicate that oil from the DwH event has not impacted Alabama's coastal habitats with the severity seen in Louisiana. As a result, no significant loss of seagrass and marsh plants has occurred in these locations, and the structure provided to the associated fauna remains largely unaffected. Our Phase I animal sampling efforts revealed high levels of shellfish and finfish productivity in the seagrass/marsh systems along the coast of western Alabama, in accordance with results found for other Gulf of Mexico seagrass/marsh systems.
Our surveys have also confirmed the important role of these systems as nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important species. Indeed, the seagrass beds and fringing marsh in all sampling locations supported juveniles of species with commercial and recreational value, such as penaeid shrimp, blue crab, spotted sea trout, and southern flounder. Juveniles of gray snapper, Lutjanus griseus and red drum, Sciaenops ocellata were also collected in the seagrass beds.
Preliminary analyses of Phase I data suggest that the abundance of juveniles and sub-adults of blue crabs and penaeid shrimp, and juveniles of spotted sea trout decreased at one of our marsh sites after the DwH accident in relation to the abundances measured before the accident. Continuing our sampling will allow us to examine how prolonged and general such a decrease is for seagrass beds and fringing marshes of the western Alabama coast and, thus, contribute to the assessment of large-scale impacts of the DwH accident on the ecological and economic value of the north central Gulf of Mexico.