Dr. Billy Causey (Southeast Regional Director for the National Marine Sanctuary Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Dr. Billy Causey

You were on an oil-related call recently. Can you share anything about that? What damage and losses are there?
Dr. Causey: Well. we really don’t have any major assessment of what we lost. In the [Florida] Keys, we have not seen any loss as far as any invertebrates. I would have to rely on what the scientists have done with their assessments. It’s too early in the Keys to say we have lost any marine life. That’s yet to be determined.

Can the coral in the Florida Keys be protected? How?
Dr. Causey: We’re talking about several different questions here. First, are we talking about the kind of threat from the Deepwater Horizon blowout? Or are we talking about ship grounding that could spill oil. In each case, we want to reduce the threat through various physical and chemical means, and reduce its interaction with the natural resources. In the case of the BP blowout, that is so far away and the oil would have to travel such a distance where weathering reduces it to 30-40% in volume. And microorganisms are reducing it as it flows. There are a number of things that naturally degrade it.
Should it be here, we’ll probably see emulsified oil and tar balls. Those could be removed by skimmers, or if it was on beaches, it would be picked up. If it’s something on the reef, we would have to rely on skimmers and booms. There are a number of mechanisms to reduce the threat to the natural resources.

After speaking with Dr. Mahadevan of the Mote Marine Laboratory, I understand the booms aren’t working very well. Is that correct?
Dr. Causey: The booms do work, and Dr. Mahadevan’s statement is accurate. But it depends on the conditions. Booms don’t work well to contain oil when there are heavy waves. It depends on the currents and weather conditions. But the booms on calm days are working to corral the oil and burn it off. There has been a lot of that. There’s a variety of mechanisms to remove the oil and handle the impact. It just depends on the conditions, and the conditions presented by the immediate threat of the conditions. The purpose is to remove it to reduce the threat and protect the marine life as much as you can.
We have not seen any oil in the Keys from the BP blowout, and at this point, we don’t anticipate any. The Mote Marine Lab sent out some unmanned underwater vehicles to detect and sample any trace of oil, and they have not found anything at this point. We have no reason to believe that oil has reached this area. 

Are there plans underway for protecting the Keys and the coastal sanctuaries from the oil?
Dr. Causey: Plans are totally underway. The entire area committee and Florida Peninsula Command are under a unified command to respond to any threats. Command has been keeping various groups ready to call in and deploy booms and skimmers to respond when necessary. We have had some tar balls show up a few weeks after the BP blowout and we sent them to Connecticut for analysis. We found out they aren’t from the BP spill. But we have a lot of people ready to go, meeting on a regular basis, [and] continually reviewing the status, so we are prepared.

You’re a policy developer, what policies are being implemented concerning this spill?
Dr. Causey: The main thing is implementing the policies established for oil-spill response, and following the protocol. NOAA serves as a protocol with others trustees where we have policies in place. Are we developing new ones at this time? No. Will we in the future? Probably.
There is the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act of 1990 established by Congress, which is one that holds strong for the Keys area. It basically says there will be no hydrocarbon, oil, or gas explorations in this area and also outlines how the area will be protected.

How might the oil affect the existing threats to the Florida coastal areas and the wildlife (runoff, coral bleaching, red algal blooms, ship grounding damage)?
Well, any time you add a stress, you risk damaging the reef environments. The corals aren’t bleaching this year. The water quality, which has affected the coral in various ways, has been very warm this year. Any time you add an additional stress, you run the risk of pushing corals to the limit. We're not there with this blowout and I don’t think we’ll see a major stress at this point.

What are the concerns with the Loop Current and how that might affect the spill?
Dr. Causey: Well, the Loop Current fluctuates between years. This year, the top of the Current pinched off and disconnected from the Loop as an eddy and is keeping the oil up there. The Current is mostly surface currents and we have been sampling for oil in the Current. We haven’t found anything in this area though.
If anything should come our way, again, we have been ready since April 20.

For more information on Dr. Billy Causey, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/oceanscouncil/members/bios/causey.htm