It’s been over 6 months now since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill first started, and we are getting the first real reports back on what the consequences are on the sea floor. When oil first started spilling, everyone was worried what would happen when it inevitably hit shore. Here at MCBI, we were immediately worried about what was happening on the sea floor, particularly what would happen to the deep sea coral communities. We have been working on deep sea coral protection for years, and we were really worried about what would happen to these delicate creatures. Not many people seem to know what deep sea corals are, so in case you haven’t heard of them they’re corals that do not rely on sunlight to grow, they grab their nutrients out of the water around them. They are very delicate, slow growing creatures that can live for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years. They provide essential habitat for many species, including a number of commercially important fish species. They’re usually found in deep and cold water in places all over the world, many of which are not traditionally known as coral reef hot spots of biological diversity. There are excellent deep sea coral communities in Florida and Hawaii, but some of the largest and best in the United States are in Alaska, and still more exist in the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sandra Brooke, MCBI’s coral conservation director has spent much of the last 3 months on several deep sea coral cruises in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic. In fact, she’s on one right now, and we should have a report on what she finds when she gets back later this month. As you’ll see on the post below, she’s not the only one out there, and coral scientists from all over the country are heading to the Gulf to see what the damage will be. Initial reports back, miles away from the spill were promising, with little evident damage to deep sea coral communities at first glance, but reports that are just coming back from areas closer to the well are devastating, as you can tell from many of the posts below.
The oil has stopped spilling, it’s not pilling up in globs on shore anymore, but the damage done to the environment is far from over. Here’s hoping it won’t be nearly as bad as we fear.