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The arms of a brittle starfish, red in color, clinging to coral damaged by the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: AP/NOAA)

BP Spill Caused 'Graveyard of Corals'

New Evidence points to 'chemical fingerprint' of Deepwater Horizon

Common Dreams staff

A team of scientists have released evidence that officially traces irreparable damage of coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Researchers described the site as a 'graveyard of coral' resembling bare skeleton and loose tissue covered in 'heavy mucous and brown fluffy material'.

The new evidence reveals the impact of the BP disaster on marine life, as it may only be the tip of the iceberg of damage caused by the spill. Coral is essential to the health of marine ecosystems, the researchers emphasized. This damage will lead to 'a tangled web of impact'.

* * *

Report: Oil Spill Culprit for Heavy Toll on Coral (Associated Press):

After months of laboratory work, scientists say they can definitively finger oil from BP's blown-out well as the culprit for the slow death of a once brightly colored deep-sea coral community in the Gulf of Mexico that is now brown and dull.

In a study published Monday, scientists say meticulous chemical analysis of samples taken in late 2010 proves that oil from BP PLC's out-of-control Macondo well devastated corals living about 7 miles southwest of the well. The coral community is located over an area roughly the size of half a football field nearly a mile below the Gulf's surface.

The damaged corals were discovered in October 2010 by academic and government scientists, but it's taken until now for them to declare a definite link to the oil spill. [...]

"It was like a graveyard of corals," said Erik Cordes, a biologist at Temple University who went down to the site in the Alvin research submarine. [...]

Charles Fisher, a biologist with Penn State University who's led the coral expeditions, said recovery of the damaged site would be slow.

"Things happen very slowly in the deep sea; the temperatures are low, currents are low, those animals live hundreds of years and they die slowly," he said. "It will take a while to know the final outcome of this exposure."

BP did not immediately comment on the study. [...]

White, the lead researcher, said that this coral site was the only one found southwest of the Macondo well so far, but that others may exist. The researchers also wrote in the paper that it was too early to rule out serious damage at other coral sites that may have seemed healthy during previous examinations after the April 2010 spill.

Jerald Ault, a fish and coral reef specialist at the University of Miami who was not part of the study, said the findings were cause for concern because deep-sea corals are important habitat. He said there are many links between animals that live at the surface, such as tarpon and menhaden, and life at the bottom of the Gulf. Ecosystem problems can play out over many years, he said.

"It's kind of a tangled web of impact," he said.

* * *

BP Oil Spill Seriously Harmed Deep-Sea Corals, Scientists Warn (The Guardian/UK):

Deep sea corals appear to have been seriously harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to scientists.

A survey of one site near the well in the Gulf of Mexico uncovered "compelling evidence" of pollution damage. Coral communities more than 1,220 metres (4,000ft) below the surface of the ocean appeared stressed and discoloured.

Tests showed that oil from the site bore Deepwater Horizon's chemical "fingerprint". [...]

The explosion, in April 2010, poured an estimated 405m litres (160m gallons) of oil into the Gulf, causing a major environmental disaster. [...]

Professor Charles Fisher, from Pennsylvania State University, took part in the initial dive, by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which identified the site.

He said: "We discovered the site during the last dive of the three-week cruise.

"As soon as the ROV got close enough to the community for the corals to come into clear view, it was clear to me that something was wrong at this site. I think it was too much white and brown, and not enough colour on the corals, and brittle stars.

"Once we were close enough to zoom in on a few colonies, there was no doubt that this was something I had not seen anywhere else in the Gulf: an abundance of stressed corals, showing clear signs of a recent impact. This is exactly what we had been on the lookout for during all dives, but hoping not to see anywhere."

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