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A Case Study of Zooplankton Response to Oil Contamination as a Predicted Consequence of Pipeline 5 Failure in the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan

August 2018

Sean Clark


This case study looks at how a potential oil spill would affect the zooplankton found in Lake Huron and Douglas Lake. These concerns are related to the Line 5 pipeline that runs in the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac, which has been deteriorating over the years and poses a potential threat of spilling into the Great Lakes. Zooplankton was collected and exposed to motor oil similar to the SCO (synthetic crude oil) found in the pipeline for 3 days. The results were not entirely conclusive due to human error, but the results did support that zooplankton had high oil ingestion when exposed to the contaminates, allowing for bioaccumulation in the plankton population collected.

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Policy Implications

The concerns around a potential Line 5 oil spill are valid in highlighting the potential environmental risk that comes with the continued deterioration of the pipeline’s infrastructure. Bioaccumulation of SCO is likely in species like zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain and can rise in trophic level into predators of plankton in the Great Lakes. This drastic change in the environment could have a negative effect on commercial fishing industries as well, as many fish species are predators to the zooplankton.

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