Marine tar residues originate from natural and anthropogenic oil releases into the ocean environment and are formed after liquid petroleum is transformed by weathering, sedimentation, and other processes. Tar balls, tar mats, and tar patties are common examples of marine tar residues and can range in size from millimeters in diameter (tar balls) to several meters in length and width (tar mats). These residues can remain in the ocean environment indefinitely, decomposing or becoming buried in the sea floor. However, in many cases, they are transported ashore via currents and waves where they pose a concern to coastal recreation activities, the seafood industry and may have negative effects on wildlife. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge on marine tar residue formation, transport, degradation, and distribution. Methods of detection and removal of marine tar residues and their possible ecological effects are discussed, in addition to topics of marine tar research that warrant further investigation. Emphasis is placed on benthic tar residues, with a focus on the remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in particular, which are still affecting the northern Gulf of Mexico shores years after the leaking submarine well was capped.
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