Scientists Worry About Oil Plumes’ Effects on Coral Reefs – NYTimes.com

The New York Times
By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF

Last September, marine scientists studying deep-sea biology in the northern Gulf of Mexico lowered a submersible robot off the side of a government research vessel and piloted it 1,300 feet to the ocean floor.

There, in complete darkness and near-freezing temperatures, the robot’s lights revealed a thriving colony of corals, anemones, fish, crustaceans and other sea life rivaling that of any shallow-water reef in the world. Researchers onboard were elated.

“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,” said Erik Cordes, a marine biologist at Temple University and chief scientist on the vessel, the Ronald H. Brown.

Nine months later, the warm thrill of discovery has cooled into dread. The reef lies just 20 miles northeast of BP’s blown-out well, making it one of at least three extensive deepwater reefs lying directly beneath the oil slick in the gulf.

Yet it is not the slick that troubles scientists. They fear a more insidious threat: vast plumes of partly dissolved oil apparently spreading in the deep ocean.

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