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Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

This Dec. 1, 2010 photo provided by the University of Georgia, made from the submarine Alvin, shows a dead crab with oil residue near it on a still-damaged sea floor about 10 miles north of the BP oil rig accident. Marine biologist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia said, 'We consistently saw dead fauna (animals) at all these sites. It's likely there's a fairly large area impacted,' she said. (University of Georgia, Samantha Joye)

February 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A top marine scientist is reporting bad news from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

University of Georgia scientist Samantha Joye says oil from the BP spill remains stuck there and isn't degrading as hoped, decimating life on parts of the sea floor.

On Saturday, she showed video and slides from her December dives around the BP spill site.

"There's some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn't seem to be degrading," Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington.

Her findings are in direct contrast with reports from the head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf who says she thought that most of the oil is gone.

Also, a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a "fairly fast" job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye's because they looked at different places at different times.

Lubchenco Saturday also announced the start of a Gulf restoration planning process to get the Gulf back to the condition it was on Apr. 19, the day before the spill. That program would eventually be paid for BP and other parties deemed responsible for the spill. This would be separate from an already begun restoration program that would improve all aspects of the Gulf, not just the oil spill, but has not been funded by the government yet, she said.

The new program, which is part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, is part of the oil spill litigation - or out-of-court settlement - in which the polluters pay for overall damage to the ecosystem and efforts to return it to normal. This is different than paying compensation to people and businesses directly damaged by the spill.

The process will begin with public meetings all over the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.