October 22, 2010

Deep Sea Life Thus Far Unaffected By Gulf Oil Spill

The first expedition to investigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep sea life in the Gulf of Mexico is currently underway, and thus far, the news is mostly positive.

"Just 20 miles north of where BP's blown-out well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the sea, life appears bountiful despite initial fears that crude could have wiped out many of these delicate deepwater habitats," Associated Press (AP) writer Brian Skoloff reported on Friday.

"Plankton, tiny suspended particles that form the base of the ocean's food web, float en masse 1,400 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, forming a snowy-like underwater scene as they move with the currents outside the windows of a two-man sub creeping a few feet off the seafloor," he added. "Crabs, starfish and other deep sea creatures swarm small patches of corals, and tiny sea anemones sprout from the sand like miniature forests across a lunar-like landscape illuminated only by the lights of the sub, otherwise living in a deep, dark environment far from the sun's reach."

The researchers currently investigating the area are working from a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise. The vessel set sail from Gulfport, Mississippi on October 14, carrying a team of scientists led by University of North Carolina (UNC) Wilmington professor Steven W. Ross. Ross and his colleagues are using a two-person sub, the Deep Worker, to travel to depths exceeding 3,000 feet in order to observe coral living in the region, as well as other forms of aquatic life and their habitats.

More than 200 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf waters during what many have called the worst environmental crisis in U.S. history. The flow of petroleum was temporarily halted in July and the damaged oil well was permanently sealed last month, but the possible impact of the disaster will likely remain unknown for some time. As it stands right now, though, as Skoloff said, "it appears the area dodged a bullet, but more research is needed."

"Originally, when we saw the trajectory for the oil spill and where it was going, we were very concerned that these habitats would be impacted," Ross told the AP on Friday. "And we're very pleased to say so far, that in these locations, we haven't seen a large scale damage to the coral habitats. We're still looking, but so far, it's good."


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