Smithsonian May Help Scientists Understand Life in the Gulf

Museum of Natural History has 333,000 Gulf specimens

By Arlene Borenstein
|  Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010  |  Updated 11:46 PM EDT
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There's a local connection to the gulf oil spill after all. The most complete set of invertebrate species that live in the Gulf of Mexico is headquartered right here in Washington.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History will be the launching ground for scientists trying to understand the spill's impact on the Gulf's ecosystem. The museum actually holds about 58 percent of all the publicly available specimen-based records from the Gulf, according to their website. You can view a map demonstrating just how many specimen collections exist and where they were picked up. The Smithsonian said it has been a decades long effort.

"The Smithsonian has been collaborating with the Minerals Management Service since the 1970s to archive collections from marine surveys, resulting in more than 300,000 lots. It is estimated that the Smithsonian holds about 58%of all the publicly available specimen-based records from the Gulf of Mexico. This provides an important baseline for comparative surveys."

One of the collection sites is just 20 miles off the Deepwater Horizon well, the site of the massive oil spill. The area is home to deep-water coral, a key reef-building species. The coral helps sustain other marine life and any damage to it could create a devastating domino effect.

The Smithsonian's collection may not only help scientists. It could help determine the depth of BP's responsibility for the April 20 explosion. 

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