The Sea Lab’s Outreach Coordinator contributes to synthesis on Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The Sea Lab’s Discovery Hall Programs Outreach Coordinator Rachel McDonald’s work conducting outreach on ACER’s research is featured in a special issue of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative’s (GoMRI) Current: The Journal of Marine Education. ACER is the Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience Consortium, a research and outreach program funded by GoMRI, and focused on investigating the role biodiversity plays in the resilience to an ecological disturbance like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The special Current issue, published by the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA), synthesizes the data from a variety of projects gathered in the wake of the oil spill. NMEA’s goal for the creation of this dedicated special issue was to give educators a way to explain the scientific process to their students by using the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as an example.

The special issue covers five areas of research including where currents carried the oil after the spill, the rain of oiled marine snow, the spill’s impacts on organisms and habitats, technological advancements resulting from devices and equipment used to study the spill, and a feature on data sharing, data transparency, and GoMRI’s Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC).

Along with Sara Beresford, Jessie Kastler, Dan Dinicola, and Katie Fillingham, McDonald contributed to the article titled, “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Organisms and Habitats”, highlighting the work of ACER’s science teams. McDonald helped in shaping the biology article with her input on coastal habitats.

With a great deal of data to consider and understand, McDonald said the challenge came in how to organize the information for the article. The team wanted to give educators a clear snapshot of what is known to date about the oil’s impact on the plants and animals affected by the spill.

“What started out as a synopsis of each consortium’s oil spill work relating to biological processes changed to research and data from each consortium fitted together into one larger story on impacts of the spill on the organisms and habitats,” McDonald shared.

The article covers how organisms and biological communities fared in the Gulf of Mexico after the spill, what scientists have learned and will continue to learn by studying its impacts, the importance of collecting baseline or pre-disturbance data for ecosystems, and innovative techniques and methods researchers developed to investigate the impacts of oil on many different organisms and habitats.

McDonald hopes all the articles are a great resource for teachers to use in their classroom activities and lesson plans.

“The articles in the special issue of Current includes not only timely research written for a general audience, but many of the articles include one or more classroom activity or resources specifically for teachers,” McDonald said.


More about GoMRI:

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization, and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings, and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit