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Seabirds and the spread of oil

Stantec’s Greenlight program helped Megan Willie conduct research to explore the effect of oil contamination on marine wildlife

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<p>I was interested in looking at the spacial patterns in hydrocarbon exposure in a marine bird species that winters on the coast of British Columbia.</p> <p>Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm was selected as one of my areas of focus because of the existing amount of coastal development that occurs throughout the whole system, and the amount of boat traffic that we're seeing here, including tankers that are carrying oil.</p> <p>Barrow's Goldeneye is a medium sized duck that dives. It winters primarily on the north coast of North America, from Washington up to Alaska.</p> <p>When they're wintering on the coast they are feeding almost exclusively on blue mussels. Blue mussels are marine invertebrate that will filter feed particles out of the water column and any oil that absorbs onto the outside of those particles will be consumed by the blue mussels. If they're carrying higher burdens of contaminants, like oil, any organisms that are feeding on them are going to also be carrying higher rates of exposure.</p> <p>We collected birds from several locations throughout the system that showed elevated levels of exposure compared to a lot of the other birds in the samples. I interpreted that finding to mean that hydrocarbons are basically present throughout the Burrard Inlet system.</p> <p>When I was here capturing Barrow's Golden Eye and collecting mussels in April 2015, I was actually collecting samples from my birds at the same time there was an oil spill out here, just past Stanley Park.</p> <p>Doing my research during the time of an active oil spill focused some of the purpose of the research understanding that these things can happen on a regular basis, it's not predictable, and our ability to respond to the spill and understand the consequences of a spill like that on marine organisms that are inhabiting these systems. I really highlighted the importance of really making sure we understand what the effects are currently, as proposed development might continue in these systems.</p>

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