EcoAlert: Coral Reef Kills Found Near Site of Gulf Oil Spill

06coral2_span-articleLarge A survey of the sea floor near BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has turned up dead and dying coral reefs seven miles southwest of the well, at a depth of about 4,500 feet that were probably damaged by the oil spill, scientists said on Friday. Large areas of darkened coral and other damaged marine organisms discovered on Tuesday by scientists aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, using a submersible robot equipped with still and video cameras and sampling tools, were almost certainly dying from exposure to toxins, scientists said.

"The presence of oil plumes in the area, the close proximity of BP’s well and the recent nature of the die-off make it highly likely that the spill was responsible," said Charles Fisher, a marine biologist from Penn State University who is the chief scientist on the gulf expedition, which was financed by the federal government.

‘I think that we have a smoking gun. The circumstantial evidence is very strong that it’s linked to the spill. We have never seen anything like this at any of the deep coral sites that we’ve been to, and we’ve been to quite a lot of them," he said.

Further study is needed to conclusively link the coral die-off to BP’s oil, scientists said, and the survey team took a variety of samples from the site to test for the presence of hydrocarbons and dispersant.

"No one yet knows if the signature of whatever toxin killed these corals can be found in their skeletons after the tissue sloughs off," Dr. Fisher said in his interview with the New York Times.

The discovery of the dead corals is among the first evidence that oil from the BP well may have harmed marine life in the deep ocean, a concern raised by many biologists soon after the April 20 blowout that caused the spill. At an estimated five million barrels, it was the largest oil spill in the nation’s history.

Casey Kazan via New York Times


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