Coral Reefs in Gulf of Mexico Threatened by BP Oil Spill

Going green — By on June 7, 2010 at 5:44 am
399078437 676b0ecdfe Coral Reefs in Gulf of Mexico Threatened by BP Oil Spill

Coral reefs threatened by human activities (image from World Resources Institute)

Deep, cool water coral reefs were discovered not too long ago in the Gulf of Mexico.  While coral reefs are generally known to be in warm water locations, like off the coast of Australia, cool water reefs thrive in near freezing temperatures!  They are every bit as precious as their more famous colorful cousins. When the Gulf of Mexico coral reef was discovered last September, scientists and researchers were elated.  Erik Cordes, a marine biologist at Temple University recalled:

“We flipped on the lights and there was one of the largest coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico sitting right in front of us.”

Sadly, the thrill of the coral reef discovery has turned to dread following the disastrous BP oil spill.

The Gulf of Mexico cool water coral reef hosts a virtual underwater world of corals, fish, crustaceans and anemones – all of which call the fragile reef home.  It lies only 20 miles northeast of the Deepwater Horizon, blown-out BP oil rig.

Some that have visited the Gulf since the disaster struck have commented that it doesn’t look too terrible yet…. from the surface.  Still undetermined volumes of oil (12,000-19,000 gallons per day on the low end) are spewing out underwater.  A continuous toxic stream since the day 6 weeks ago when the explosion occurred.

Deepwater reefs will be affected by the oil spill, but the impacts not as visible as those of the struggling sea birds.  Unfortunately, we’ll be witness to the oil-coated feathers and dead birds.  But we may not as easily notice the corals that are literally suffocated by the oil coating that experts predict will occur as a result of oil plumes extending underwater in the gulf.

coral reef1 Coral Reefs in Gulf of Mexico Threatened by BP Oil Spill

Fragile coral reefs at risk from the BP Oil Spill

According to Coral Reef Info:

“Coral reefs are the most biodiverse of all known marine ecosystems, and maintain much higher genetic diversity than tropical rainforests. They therefore represent the world’s most significant storehouse of potential future products.” (John McManus, The International Coral Reef Initiative: Partnership Building and Framework Development, report of the ICRI Workshop, Dumaguete City, The Philippines, 29 May-2 June 1995.)

What is threatening the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico is not pure oil.   Scientists calculate that oil droplets are mixing with water, natural gas and the dispersant chemical used by BP, Corexit.  The oil and disperasants have an effect similar to dishwashing detergent on the corals, negatively impacting their ability to colonize and reproduce.

bpoilspill1 Coral Reefs in Gulf of Mexico Threatened by BP Oil Spill

Who knows the extent of oil spill damage beneath the surface?

Sadly, we are in a reactionary mode now.  Scientists do not know the true impact of oil and dispersant on cool water coral reefs, even though oil rigs have been approved for years in the Gulf of Mexico.  With respect to the use of dispersant, Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA Administrator observed last week:

“The long-term effects on aquatic life are still unknown.”

Ironically, the environmental studies funded by oil drilling applicants are the very means by which we have been discovering and mapping deep ocean life.  Oil companies have literally helped us discover new species in the frigid depths of the ocean.

Discovery is one thing.  Protection is quite another.  Let us not forget that the oil company applicants have sought permission to drill for oil and gas in the depths of oceans that are teeming with life.   Other than ensuring that the drills did not directly damage coral reefs, little additional protections have been required.

Deep Water Coral 300x225 Coral Reefs in Gulf of Mexico Threatened by BP Oil Spill

Deep water coral

Over 100 deep water coral reef sites have been charted between Texas and Florida.  Experts agree that there are many more as of yet undiscovered (only about 1% of the cool water coral sites have been located currently).

So what is the good news here?  Two things of note.  First, deep sea currents are slow moving, which should help minimize the flow of oil which is more greatly dispersed at surface level.  Second, scientists believe that sea life in the Gulf may have adapted to low-level concentrations of oil, due to the fact of natural oil seeps from the sea floor.

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  1. This tragedy is overwhelming. Thank you for posting such a well written article about it!

    Stopping by from SITS to welcome you!

    Cheers :-)
    - CoconutPalmDesigns

  2. chanterra says:

    I feel so sad about the coral reefs! They are so precious to marine ecosystems! They are so beautiful, they are tourist attractions, and not to mention home to hundreds of marine species! We need to do all we can to help keep coral reefs alive! And i bet not everyone knows that coral, is actually a live ANIMAL, yes it is an animal! So please some how help the coral reefs stay alive!!!!!!!!!

  3. A Ninja ;D says:

    Well, that sucks for the reefs ;o
    Stupid oil people drilling holes

  4. bp representative says:

    well to, a ninja ;D
    We are doing everything, we can in our power to stop the oil spill, in mexico. We are also, not stupid, we are a very educated people! And I do agree with you it does “suck”. But I am very distraught over what you have said about people drilling holes in the ocean! We are just regular people, like you, that were just doing our jobs! So don’t shoot the messenger!

  5. This Man -_-! says:

    So don’t shoot the messenger! Come now man this mess wouldn’t have happend if it wasn’t you people.:D

  6. bp representative says:

    Well, This Man. It may be a result of what we have done. But nothing was meant to happen. We just do what we are told, from our bosses. So if you want to blame anybody, blame who is in charge!

  7. bobtheunicorn says:

    i agree its all bps fault!!

  8. afro man says:

    its all bps fault go to hell bp!!!!!

  9. Chris Sanchez says:

    The photo with the caption “Fragile coral reefs at risk from the BP Oil Spill” is not a coral reef located in the Gulf of Mexico. This photo was taken of a Indo-Pacific Reef. The corals, anenomes and clownfish in this photo are very well documented and are not cold water species nor do they exist in the Gulf of Mexico. This presense of this photo as documentation of coral reefs in danger from the BP oil spill exagerates the problem and the credible threat of the oil spill and human impact to real coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico including the Flower Gardens and Florida Keys.

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