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Cyanobacterial mats on oil-polluted sediments start of a promising self-remediation process?

A b s t r a c t: Following the Gulf War oil spill, monitoring was undertaken between June 1991 and 1994 to examine the process of bioremediation and recolonisation of affected areas by cyanobacteria. In mid 1991, no cyanobacteria were found. However, by early 1992, and again in 1993 and 1994, cyanobacterial mars were detected covering sheltered and regularly flooded intertidal polluted sediments. Microcoleussp. and Phormidium sp. were the predominant species. Experimental growth of cyanobacteria on oil-polluted surfaces was undertaken in the laboratory. Mixed cyanobacterial colonies grew equally well on oiled and oil-free agar dishes. Field observations, laboratory studies and electron microscopical observations indicate that there is direct contact between cyanobacteria and oily surfaces. The growth of the mars initiated a bioremediation process. Mats shrank as they dried, fracturing into pieces and thereby breaking up the tar crusts; water current and wind then removed the tar together with loose mat scales. It has not yet been determined whether oil biodegradation by chemoautotrophic bacteria and cyanobacteria contributed to the cyanobacteria-born remediation process. The possible role of the cyanobacteria in hydrocarbon metabolism is discussed.


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