BP Oil Spill’s Lethal Aftermath: Dead Sea Corals

November 6, 2010

(ChattahBox Science News)—If deep-sea marine organisms could cry, the Gulf of Mexico would be reverberating with the sounds of their weeping, as they struggle to survive amid the toxic effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Returning government scientists from a marine expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, have discovered a colony of dead and dying sea corals, just seven-miles from the location of BP’s blown out Macondo wellhead. The corals were saturated with an unknown “brown substance” that was not seen during previous expeditions, leading researchers to conclude that the millions of gallons of spilled oil and chemical dispersants are destroying marine life deep underwater where the carnage is unseen.

The expedition was carried out over several weeks, by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explore deep-sea coral habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. The research trip wasn’t intended to survey the effects of the BP oil disaster, but the shocking destruction found by the scientists to corals and other marine organisms hit them smack in the face.

The NOAA and participating scientists are now sounding the alarm on the hidden destruction to marine life hidden 1,400 meters deep below the Gulf of Mexico.

“Charles Fisher, Ph.D., professor of biology at Penn State University and chief scientist on the expedition, described much of the soft coral observed in an area measuring about 15 to 40 meters as covered by what appeared to be a brown substance. Ninety percent of 40 large corals were heavily affected and showed dead and dying parts and discoloration. Another site 400 meters away had a colony of stony coral similarly affected and partially covered with a similar brown substance.”

The NOAA researches won’t know for sure that the massive coral damage is due to BP’s oil spill, until tests are completed. But one thing they do know for sure–the last time they checked, before the oil spill, the same colonies of deep-sea corals and stony coral were healthy and thriving.

Chief scientist for the NOAA expedition Charles Fisher, a biologist at Penn State University, released a statement to draw attention to the seriousness of the destruction to the Gulf corals.

“The circumstantial evidence is extremely strong and compelling, because we have never seen anything like this,” said Fisher,

“The 2010 expedition revisited many sites from missions in previous years and documented that in nearly all cases, there was no observed change,” reads the NOAA report.

“These observations capture our concern for impacts to marine life in places in the Gulf that are not easily seen,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary for commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Continued, ongoing research and monitoring involving academic and government scientists are essential for comprehensive understanding of impacts to the Gulf.”

What does this mean for the future viability of the fisheries industry and the impact to our delicate marine ecosystems? It cold be years until the Gulf of Mexico bounces back to life, providing us with safe food to eat and a thriving commercial fisheries industry.

Other studies of the Gulf after the oil spill, have found similar destruction to our underwater ecosystem.

An August expedition launched by the Florida Institute of Oceanography, with scientists from the University of South Florida, found severe toxicity in the Gulf waters that compromised the phytoplankton, the basis of the marine food web.

David Hollander, chief scientist of the Florida research project, warned that the poisons from the BP spill could move upwards through the food chain to eventually sicken humans.

“The idea that this could have an impact on the food web and on the biological system is certainly a reality,” says Hollander. “This is not addressing the question of turtles or of sharks or of birds, which are at the top of the food web, but rather the organisms that are at the base of the food web.”

Polluted and weakened phytoplankton, sick and dying sea corals, these findings do not bode well for the future of the Gulf of Mexico.

And when BP and government officials tell you the toxic oil and chemical dispersants have largely disappeared, don’t believe it, not for a second.

Photo Source: Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEMRE.


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