Capstone Title

The Effects of Oil Spills on the Rhizophora (Red Mangrove) Ecosystem in the Southern United States, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Regions

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Bart J. Baca

Second Advisor

Curtis Burney


Coastal ecosystems and their flora and fauna constituents are vulnerable to negative impacts. In the tropics, the ecosystems can include salt marshes, seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangrove forests (Levings et al., 1994 ). As discussed in this paper, damaging a structuring organism such as Rhizophora mangle can result in total destruction of the a productive coastal ecosystem.

Jackson et al. (1989) described coastal environments and most of the species affected by spilled oil to be similar throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and southern United States, thus allowing a comprehensive comparison of oil pollution effects on flora and fauna found throughout these regions. Four case studies [Tampa Bay (Florida), Hillsborough Bay (Florida), Bahia las Minas (Panama), and Bahia Sucia (Puerto Rico)] were selected in this paper to evaluated oil pollution effects on the red mangroves in these regions.

Hydrocarbon concentrations varied year-to-year in the sediment and spatially in the red mangrove ecosystem at all four case studies. Six months following initial spills, straight and branched alkanes were highly degraded. Oil permeated into deep layers and reoiled in its initial composition when sediment was disturbed.

Mortality of red mangrove in these studies was estimated by monitoring any combination ofDBH (diameter at base and height) of selected shoots, monitoring leaf fall and evaluating oiled versus unoiled sites. Decreased foliage and effects on components of the root system were visibly evident along the outer fringes. Reduction of the red mangrove ecosystem generally increased with increased oiling.

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