June 1, 2010

Coral Reefs and the Gulf Oil Spill

What a joy it was last fall when NOAA Ocean Explorer announced that researchers had discovered new coral reefs in the Gulf. These are not tropical reefs; they are in the cold, dark depths of the sea. They are comprised of Lophelia pertusa, a stony coral found in deep, dark near-freezing waters. 

Sadly, as the New York Times reported today, the reefs are a mere 20 miles northeast of the failed oil well that is spewing oil into the gulf. It's one of three deepwater reefs under the oil slick.

The oil is not so much the issue. It's the plumes of partly dissolved oil spreading through the water. A mixture of oil, dispersants and natural gas, it could prove toxic to these slow-growing reefs. "Both oil and dispersants, which chemically resemble dishwashing detergent, hamper the ability of corals to colonize and reproduce. And these effects are amplified when the two are mixed," the newspaper noted.

More research will be needed to determine how the spill will affect the reefs and other ocean organisms over the years to come. -Jen


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Sometimes it's the work of other scientists that catches our eye at the Biodiversity Institute. The Science Life is a blog that distills a few of these observations from other science blogs, magazines, newspapers and our colleagues at other institutions. Join us as we highlight research discoveries in not only ecology and evolutionary biology, but also areas as diverse as archaeology, medicine, technology and climate change.

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