2017-04-20 / Front Page

EPA Lab on Pensacola Beach offers Earth Day tours

STAFF REPORTS

This Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day and what better way to honor our environment than to tour the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Ecology Division, which is located on Pensacola Beach?

The EPA will open its doors to the public for an open house on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so the public an see how research at the lab supports the EPA’s mission to protect and preserve our nation’s environment and our citizens’ health.

Activities planned for Earth Day will include scientific presentations on coral reefs, fish and aquatic species displayed in over 50 marine aquaria and demonstrations of environmental research.

Invitations have also been extended to Pensacola and Gulf Breeze chambers of commerce, state and local government representatives and other officials to visit the facility. Access for visitors to the open house will be limited to specific areas, which will allow everyone to enjoy exhibits and presentations that include:

• Flow-through Marine Aquaria Exhibit

• Zooplankton Exhibit and Activities

• Diving and Research Equipment Exhibit

• Research Vessels

• Tidal Zone Petting Zoo

• Environmental Research Displays and Presentations

The facility employs 60 staff and 50 contractors and is one of several ecology laboratories in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

One project they are currently working on is protecting coral reefs, which have an ecological and economic value. Reefs are a habitat for fish and invertebrates and also protect shorelines, as well as providing natural chemicals for new drugs from the sea. The reefs are composed of fish, soft corals, stony corals, sponges and many other invertebrates.

Coral reefs are a sentinel for the health of the coastal ecosystem, so researchers are trying to determine how to keep corals from becoming stressed from warming waters, erosion and sediment.

EPA is measuring water quality specific to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River is the third largest river in the world, draining the third largest watershed and discharging the fifth largest volume of water into the Gulf of Mexico. Everything deposited between the Allegheny Mountains and the Rocky Mountains flows into the Mississippi River, with pollutants such as nitrogen causing algal growth, sapping the oxygen from the Gulf and killing nearly everything in a zone that is larger than some of the northeastern United States.

Using sensors attached to a boat, scientists at the EPA Lab can measure water clarity, salinity, sediment and more. Advanced methods can further filter the water to determine the level of sediment, temperature, dissolved organic matter and other factors.

Experiments with fish determine the effect of certain toxins on endangered species. They use non-endangered surrogate animals to predict adverse effects of chemicals on protein expression and metabolic response as well as survival and reproduction.

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