College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

Gulf Spill Spurs Student's Restoration Research

February 9, 2012

By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley Media Relations

A College of Natural Resources doctoral student, deeply influenced by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is helping to restore the Gulf’s blackened marshes with a project that could also aid threatened ecosystems nationwide, including in Northern California.

Thomas Azwell is testing bagasse-filled growth tubes as a clean medium for marsh plants in the Bay Jimmy Restoration Project in Louisiana. (Photo by Gavin Garrison)

Partnering with researchers and agencies in the Gulf, Thomas Azwell is staking tubes of cotton netting stuffed with pre-composted sugar cane fiber into the dying marshes of Louisiana, testing whether the environmentally sustainable waste material can give a larger variety of plants a better chance at healing the oil-damaged wetlands.

Azwell, who worked as a mechanic in the 1990s on offshore oil platforms in the Gulf, said he wants to help something positive emerge from the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history and to apply his education at UC Berkeley for the public’s benefit.

“This is an incredible opportunity, and it’s part of our land-grant mission as a university, as a public university, to disseminate to the community the ideas we come up with in research laboratories, for the betterment of the community,” he said.

UC Berkeley civil and environmental engineering professor Robert Bea, who led the Deepwater Horizon Study Group to investigate the oil rig accident, said Azwell’s work “could have important applications for marsh and habitat restoration in California, especially in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.”

“Not only do we keep destroying so much of the marshes through oil spills and other environmental hits,” said Bea, “but nature is playing her hand, too, with very gradually rising sea levels.”

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