Fungus outbreak hits Alabama marshes; could oil spill sheens be to blame?, Ben Raines for the Press-Register, December 06, 2010:
A widespread fungal outbreak is affecting one of Alabama’s key marsh grass species, potentially rendering much of this year’s seed crop sterile, according to scientists.
While the fungus is always present in coastal marshes, scientists speculated that repeated exposure to oil sheens floating on Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay this spring and summer might have played a role in the outbreak by reducing the natural resistance of the marsh plants to the disease. ...
This, scientists said, could be the first sign of many subtle problems potentially related to exposure to oil.
Judy Haner, marine conservation director with the Alabama office of The Nature Conservancy:
“The marshes and barrier islands were the areas that took the brunt of the oil and sheens... This infection raises the possibility that our marsh system is more vulnerable because it has been stressed.” ...
“When a system is knocked out of balance, we can see things take off like this."
Stan Senner, director of conservation science for the Ocean Conservancy, was Alaska’s science coordinator following the Exxon Valdez:
“It is certainly reasonable that exposure to oil may have weakened these plants and made them vulnerable to this fungus or other diseases... People talk about the collapse of the herring population years after Exxon Valdez. Well, one of the agents of that collapse was a fungus that struck the fish. Exposure to oil [for fish born the year of the spill] made them more vulnerable to the fungus.”
“This story will play out over several years... Anyone who thinks we have dodged all the bullets in terms of impacts from the spill is being way too premature.”
Bill Finch, director of the Mobile Botanical Gardens:
"[It looked like something in the marshes had] gone haywire [this year]."
“There are many reasons plants get infected by disease, but I was stunned by how pervasive this seems to be this year.”