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Oil spill a threat to valuable sea life off the N.C. coast

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ocean currents that could sweep Gulf of Mexico oil up the Atlantic coast might also become a contaminated highway for billions of young sea creatures, some of which will grow to maturity off the Carolinas.

Commercially valuable seafood species such as snappers and groupers sometimes spawn in the Gulf, their larvae riding currents to settle onto N.C. reefs. Coveted Atlantic bluefin tuna, which brought N.C. fishermen $1.4 million last year, are spawning now within miles of the oil leak.

Rare turtles are also swimming onto beaches in the Gulf and Carolinas to lay their eggs.

Scientists say oil could stunt the animals' growth, cause breathing problems or kill them outright. Fish larvae and eggs are especially sensitive to toxic substances.

The odds remain low that the spill will reach N.C. beaches. But oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon well has reached the Gulf's Loop Current, which flows south around the tip of Florida and then northward up the Atlantic coast on the Gulf Stream.

"The Gulf Stream stitches us all together," said Duke University marine biologist Larry Crowder.

Read the complete story at charlotteobserver.com

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