Deepwater Horizon Disaster’s Coral Effect

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Deepwater Horizon oil spill

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According to a new study, the oil from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which poured 5 million barrels of gallon of oil into the water, would have killed off coral reefs in the Florida Keys if it reached that far south. The scientists also believe that oil and dispersant from Deepwater Horizon spill have damaged the reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, but also state that no studies have been done to corroborate this claim.

“The results of the present study clearly indicate that dispersants are highly toxic to early life stages of coral,” the scientists concluded in the study, which was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The Tampa Bay Times writes:

Ritchie, who has spent 20 years studying coral reef organisms, said she and other scientists in the Keys during the 2010 disaster wondered if it would make it to the Keys and, if so, what the effects would be, as well as the effects of using a dispersant.

They collected two species of coral — brooding coral and broadcast spawning coral. Then they bought Corexit from the manufacturer, Texas-based Nalco Energy Services, and acquired some of the oil that spilled from Deepwater Horizon, and exposed the coral to different levels of each both separately and together. Their study was funded by money from the sale of Florida “Protect the Reef” license plates.

That the oil itself was toxic to the corals was no surprise. But no one had tried mixing in Corexit before, Ritchie said.

Ritchie said the results of this study should be taken into account by any federal agency reviewing plans for dealing with a potential spill anywhere near a coral reef — especially off the Florida Keys.

This just adds to the already existing coral concerns. As we’ve written before, the coral reefs, which habitat a quarter of marine wildlife, are severely endangered and have seen a steady decline in the past decades around the world. In Australia, for example, the  Great Barrier Reef has had a 50 percent decline in the last 50 years. What’s more, scientists have estimated that all the coral reefs in Southeast Asia could disappear in this century resulting in a 80 percent decline in food availability.

According to The Guardian, a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals the devastating findings of the most up-to-date survey of reefs in the Carribean: Only 8 percent of the reef have live coral. In fact, the only area in the Caribbean that is not showing such morbidity are remote areas in the Netherlands Antilles and Cayman Islands, where 30% of live coral still remains.

This news comes just month after a recently published scientific paper (published in the journal Science) which found that the rate at which the ocean is acidifying is faster now than it has ever been in the last 300 million years. Ocean acidification is a phenomenon related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere that make it difficult for creatures to build their shells and skeletons. The study, led by Columbia University paleoceanographer Bärbel Hönisch, analyzed existing evidence from decades of research on the earth’s geologic history and has concluded that “we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change.”

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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