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article imageGulf coral death now 'definitively linked' to BP oil spill

By Anne Sewell     Mar 27, 2012 in Environment
New Orleans - Scientists have performed months of laboratory work and can now confirm that oil from BP's blown-out well is causing the slow death of the deep-sea coral community in the Gulf of Mexico.
Once brightly colored, the deep-sea coral is now brown and dull. Located over an area approximately the size of half a football field and almost a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, the coral community is slowly dying.
Huffington Post says that a study was published on Monday wherein scientists report that the meticulous chemical analysis done on samples taken in late 2010 now definitively proves that BP PLC's oil-spill is the culprit. The out-of-control Macondo well, has devastated the corals living approximately 7 miles southwest of the well.
It was in October 2010 that academic and government scientists discovered the damaged corals, but it has taken this long to confirm a definite link to the oil spill.
While most of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is muddy, the coral colonies that crop up here and there are absolutely vital to the marine life in the ocean depths. The report said that today the injured and dying coral has a bare skeleton, loose tissue and is covered in heavy mucous and brown fluffy material.
Erik Cordes, a biologist at Temple University who visited the site in the Alvin research submarine says: "It was like a graveyard of corals."
Helen White, who is a chemical oceanographer with Haverford College and the lead researcher on the analysis said: "They figured (the coral damage) was the result of the spill, now we can say definitely it was connected to the spill."
She also said that pinpointing the BP well as the source of the contamination required sampling sediment on the sea bed. The researchers then had to establish what came from natural seeps in the Gulf, and what was the result of the Macondo well.
Finally the researchers matched up the oil found on the corals with that coming from the BP well.
The researchers have now concluded that the damage was caused by an underwater plume of oil that was tracked as passing by the coral site in June 2010. They also noted that in a decade of deep-sea coral research, this is the first coral that has been found to be dying in this manner.
The findings of this research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists have returned to the site by submarine since 2010, and Charles Fisher, a biologist with Penn State University leading 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."
The researchers also say that the area consists of 54 coral colonies and they were able to fully photogrpah and assess 43 of these. Among those assessed, 86 per cent were damaged. Of that percentage, 10 coral colonies are showing signs of severe stress.
At this stage, this is the only deep-sea coral site found to be damaged. However, researchers do warn that others might possibly exist, that may have been healthy during the examinations in April 2010.
The problem began in April 2010, when the well blew out around 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The accident caused the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and is the nation's largest offshore spill. With more than 200 million gallons of oil being released, it has had a devastating effect on the livelihood of fishermen in the area.
There has been no comment from BP on this study as yet.
More about Gulf of Mexico, Oil spill, BP, Coral, Death
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