In late April 2010, evolutionary ecologist Peter Roopnarine turned on his television and saw a massive explosion—one that caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to sink below the Gulf of Mexico in a creaking, groaning blaze. Roopnarine didn’t yet know that it was the largest accidental marine oil spill in history that would release nearly five million barrels of oil into the surrounding waters, but he knew the disaster was worth investigating.
“Though it’s hard to look beyond oil-drenched pelicans and fouled beaches, I was thinking about the stories oysters might tell,” says Roopnarine, who began emailing colleagues about a new research project within days of the blast. “We wanted to use oyster shell geochemistry and tissue histology to reconstruct the past and study the spill’s present impacts. I sent out some notes saying, ‘We should probably look into this,’ and our colleagues started collecting in the Gulf right away.”