1010 l) per day (Anonymous, 2001), even the spillage of a tiny fraction (estimated at <0.0035% in 1997 (Etkin, 1999)) means that more than 120 million gallons are spilled into the world’s oceans each year. Fortunately, despite the increasing volume of transported oil, the amount spilled from catastrophic accidents has been generally decreasing (Etkin, 1999). Nevertheless, there is intense public pressure for the infrequent major spills to be cleaned up in an environmentally appropriate manner as quickly as possible. Bioremediation offers a clean-up technology that works to speed natural degradation processes (Lee and deMora, 1999), and it has already achieved notable success following the spill from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska (Prince and Bragg, 1997). Extension of this approach to marshes, harbors, and dredged sediment will further facilitate the remediation process.

Modern genomic and culturing tools, described at the second workshop, will revolutionize our understanding of, and hence our ability to manipulate and restore, marsh environments and dredged material. Both are fragile substrates where careless human intervention can cause more harm than good. Physical treatments of marshes can cause more damage than the initial spill (Canadian Coast Guard, 1995) and anaerobic dredge spoil may release heavy metals if allowed to become aerobic without appropriate containment (National Research Council, 1997). Bioremediation can potentially offer cost-effective and environmentally appropriate treatments for these troublesome situations. Sustained effort will be required in both basic science, to understand the microbial metabolic potential that we may be able to exploit, and in field applications. For example, recent mesocosm experiments (Dowty et al., 2001) and field studies at the San Jacinto test site in Texas (Simon et al., 1999) showed promising leads in developing bioremediation. Integrating the new genomics and proteomics tools and environmental remediation experiments, perhaps by encouraging collaborative research, is an obvious way of stimulating rapid progress in this important area of biotechnology. Reliable bioremediation strategies for marshes and dredged materials would be an important contribution toward maintaining ecosystem health in the face of continued exploitation of our coastline.

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH

The ever-growing coastal population is placing an increasing burden on the natural processes of the coastal environment. Fisheries are declining (Jackson et al., 2001), and there is increasing concern about sewage con-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement