Enabling Rapid Evaluation of Biological Effects of Oil Spills on Juvenile Pacific Salmon in Coastal Habitats
As the volume of petroleum products transported by pipeline and ocean-going tankers increases, so does the risk of oil spills. Three recent spills in British Columbia involving different types of petroleum products highlight the need to learn more about how oil spills affect marine life in cold coastal waters. Migrating juvenile Pacific Salmon are particularly vulnerable since they inhabit coastal areas where oil spills are more likely to occur. With the power of genomicsFootnote 1 and molecular biology,Footnote 2 new tools (tests) can be developed to evaluate biological impacts on organisms, such as hormone and immune system dysfunction, stress, or cancer, that are not currently captured by traditional toxicological tests and monitoring programs.
This project will create molecular bioindicator tests to evaluate the impacts of four petroleum products, heavy fuel oil, fresh diluted bitumen (dilbit), crude oil, and marine diesel, on the health of juvenile Pacific Salmon. According to the Commercial Marine Shipping Accidents assessment conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies, those four products have the highest likelihood of being involved in a coastal marine spill. The critical knowledge gained from this research will improve understanding of ecosystem stressors on Pacific Salmon and aid in the development of appropriate response strategies for oil spills in cold marine conditions. The parallel development of a non-lethal sampling method, combined with genetic (qPCR)-based profiling, will also provide a viable means for monitoring the biological impacts of a spill on fish in the area and as well as clean-up activities.
2017 - 2020
Pacific Coast: Strait of Georgia, Southern Shelf, Northern Shelf
Dr. Caren Helbing
Professor, Biochemistry/Microbiology Department
University of Victoria
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