Long-Term Effects of an Oil Spill on Populations of the Salt-Marsh Crab Uca pugnax

Science  29 Jul 1977:
Vol. 197, Issue 4302, pp. 484-487
DOI: 10.1126/science.197.4302.484


A spill of fuel oil at West Falmouth, Massachusetts, in 1969, contaminated contiguous salt marshes with up to 6000 micrograms of oil per gram (ppm) of wet mud and affected local populations of Uca pugnax. Directly related to high-sediment oil content were reduced crab density, reduced ratio of females to males, reduced juvenile settlement, heavy overwinter mortality, incorporation of oil into body tissues, behavioral disorders such as locomotor impairment, and abnormal burrow construction. Concentrations of weathered fuel oil greater than 1000 ppm were directly toxic to adults, while those of 100 to 200 ppm were toxic to juveniles. Cumulative effects occurred at lower concentrations. Recovery of the marsh from this relatively small oil spill is still incomplete after 7 years.