The shoreline along the gulf coast from Texas to Florida is threatened by more than the 2010 oil spill. Grasses support a web of life and can indicate the health of the region both on land and on the seabeds. Here is a brief explanation about grasses and how they are affected by a number of threats.
Seagrasses : A Measure of Ecological Health
I learned to care about seagrasses in 1990 when I participated on a project run by Earthwatch under the direction of Garriet W. Smith to establish a baseline record of seagrass health on San Salvador Key in the Bahamas. The project was established because sea grass die offs happened at a variety of times in the Chesapeake delta and elsewhere with causes like dredging and disease well known from earlier studies. On the project we identified three of the most common seagrasses: Turtle Grass, thalassia testudinum, which is identified by flat blades, Manatee Grass, syringodium filiforme, the favorite food of manatees found along freshwater outlets into the ocean has round blades, and Shoal Grass, halodule wrightii and measured the “health” by cleaning, separating, drying and weighing clumps taken along the three major currents that bypass this location.
The grasses support over 113 types of algae, plus sponges, polyps, flatworms, tunicates, sea urchins, corals, barracuda, stingray, eel, and such fish as slippery dick, goatfish, porcupine fish, peacock flounder, and French grunt. Seagrasses cover the area offshore from 1 foot to over 33 feet deep or more, wherever tides and winds don’t disturb their growth
Since then, its been determined that water salinity changes due to droughts and the affects of a slime mold called Labyrinthula contribute greatly. A key factor for sea grass survival is the ability to obtain proper amounts of oxygen.
Beach Grasses : Affected by Fire
Oat grass, uniola paniculata or chasmanthium latifolium, is a protected grass because of the role they play in stabilizing sand dunes. In 2009 he dunes near Corpus Christi had been affected by fires caused by drought conditions and carelessness.
Agricultural Grasses : Affected by Hurricane Surge
When we visited Houston in 2009 and went to the NWR, the agriculture fields near the coast had been affected by storm surge up to 30 miles inland and the salt in the water leaving residue in the fields that would take a number of years to leach out. Canals were also filled with mud. Homes were destroyed. One good side effect of the hurricane was that the King Rail normally found in NWR had moved to Corpus Christi where many people were pleased to get to see it. See my slideshow, Hurricane Damage Seen Near Houston a Year Later.
A recent study in the Surfrider Report states that “Approximately 234 miles or 64% of Texas’ 367-mile Gulf coast is critically eroding, while about 7.9% of the coastline is accreting.” Most of this erosion is seen as normal and not worrisome except in the area along the coast of Louisiana where the 2010 Oil Spill Occurred.
For a visual guide to how the erosion of coastlines along the United States is eroding see Sea Level Trends published by NOAA.
Long Term Oil Spill Damage Effects Look Grim
According to Robert Hadley et al, “The presence or absence of seagrass is a first-order control of subtidal erosion and deposition” with greatest erosion caused by sea grass die off. I know what happens when I put a petroleum product on my plants, i.e. they die. And its been well-documented that agricultural runoff produces algal blooms that lead to dead zones by choking off the oxygen content int he water. According to Anthony F. Randazzo and Douglas S. Jones in “The Geology of Florida”, “Saltwater intrusion [into groundwater] is a problem throughout the state.” and is caused by the use by communities and likely to be the same along the entire gulf coast. Imagine adding oil to that same water so that we all drink it.
So if I add up all the facts, it seems to me that, in addition to the temporary (1-3) severe surface affects and longterm 10+ year affects, die off of sea creatures, reefs, sea grasses, birds, loss of agricultural fields, loss of oyster beds and many fish farms, the oil spill is likely to increase the erosion of the coastlines, potentially affect ground water, and cause home owners and farm owners their property. It is hard to believe that we did this to ourselves instead of looking for more viable solutions to the energy problem.
 H. D. Harrington, How to Identify Plants, Ohio University Press, 1957
 Eugene H. Kaplan, Southeastern and Caribbean Seashores, 1988
 Jan H. Landsberg etal, “Examining the Correlation Between the Presence of the Slime Mold Labyrinthula sp. and the Loss of Thalassia testudinum in Florida Bay”, http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/flbay/seag96.html
 R. G. Turner, Jr etal, Botanica, Barnes & Noble and Random House, 1997
 Robert B. Halley, Kimberly K. Yates, and Charles W. Holmes, “Sea-Level Rise and the Future of Florida Bay in the Next Century”,http://sofia.usgs.gov/projects/circulation/sealevelabgeer00.html
 Mark Schwarz, “Ocean ecosystems plagued by agricultural runoff”, Stanford Report, 2005, http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/march16/gulf-030905.html