Scientists have discovered some new and troubling problems from the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It was recently reported that the oil spill could be responsible for the field of dying coral near the site of the oil spill. This means that the impact from the spill could be much greater than was originally stated. Early reports stated that some 70 percent of the oil had been naturally broken down, skimmed off, or burned, and not much remained that could be seen.
However, this latest discovery could change all of that. Approximately seven miles from the site of the BP oil spill, scientists have found a large area of ocean floor coral dead. Scientist used a robot combing the ocean floor to find this problem. Due to the depth and the size of the area, scientists don’t believe they will ever be able to see all the adverse effects of the spill.
Though the ocean floor is mostly mud, it is home to this coral and is vital to the ecosystem. Because of the frigid temperatures at such depths, it will be difficult for the coral to grow back. Scientists couldn’t say if it would take years or decades for the coral to come back. Scientists are convinced the coral is dying due to the oil spill, but tests will have to be performed to confirm this.
The coral is home to many species, including fish, snails and crabs. This is likely to have the domino effect in that when the coral dies, these other species no longer have homes and are in peril. The coral had been reportedly “dying for months.” Normally brightly colored, the coral was brown and covered with skeletal-like structures. It had secreted a mucous-like substance that trapped gunk in its midst.
It is believed that the oil washed over this coral and killed it. Scientists have identified possibly as many as 25 other sites in the vicinity that have sustained damage, further strengthening the belief that the oil spill has killed the coral:
“What we have at this point is the smoking gun,” said Charles Fisher, a biologist with Penn State University who led the expedition aboard the Ronald Brown, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel.
Another expedition will go out next month to gather more data about the coral and hopefully be to answer the question as to why the coral is dying and what long term effects to expect.