Investigating Deepwater Corals in the Gulf

A team of independent scientists has started a new investigations campaign in the Gulf of Mexico, that will provide additional insight into how the BP oil spill affected corals living deep under the surface.

This type of reeds are relatively unstudied, when compared to their shallow-water brethren, because they are a lot more difficult to get to. They are however significantly more widespread.

The new expedition started yesterday, October 20, on the six-month anniversary of the start of the massive oil spill that was to become the worst environmental disaster in the history of the US.

Scientists are using the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise as a research platform. The ship carries a small, two-person submarine called Deep Worker, which can be used to collect invaluable data on the health of the coral reefs living thousands of feet under the surface of Gulf waters.

At depth of 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) or more, temperatures are very low, and sunlight is nearly inexistent. Yet, deepwater corals managed to thrive here, and to spread throughout the world’s oceans.

For the new study, the research team selected an area just 40 miles (64 kilometers) away from the original site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The region was covered in oil slicks as the crisis unfolded a few months ago.

Initial investigations conducted here using unmanned submarines have evidenced little signs of distress on the corals, but this research should let experts now if the corals have dodged a bullet, or if they suffered other types of damage.