by Emily Atkin Posted on July 29, 2014 at 1:17 pmUpdated: July 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm
Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter holds coral samples he removed from an oil rig in waters, Monday, June 7, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, La.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Scientists at Penn State University have discovered two new coral reefs near the site of BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the impacts to those reefs from the spill have been greater than expected, according to research released Monday.
The two additional reefs found by the PSU team were both farther away and deeper than the one coral reef that had previously been found to have been impacted by the spill. That indicates not only that marine ecosystems may be more greatly affected, but that some of the 210 million gallons of oil that BP spilled into the Gulf is making its mark in the deep sea.
“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” PSU biology professor Charles Fisher, who led the study, said.
ThinkProgress spoke with Fisher to find out more about what the study says, what it means, and whether or not the findings spell trouble for the future of the Gulf.
TP: Your research noted that not all coral reefs surrounding the Macondo well were impacted by the spill. Can you explain, in your own words, what you found with regard to the corals that were actually impacted?
CF: The corals we found that were impacted were all within about 22 km of the spill site, and we could tell they were impacted by the appearance. Partially dead colonies were covered with growths of things that don’t normally grow on coral.
We know this impact was linked to the Macondo well, and that has to do with another study that we did in 2010. We found one [coral] site in 2010, and when we found it, the corals still had brown goo on it. The oil on those matched the chemical fingerprint of the oil from BP’s spill. We returned to that site and have followed the progress. So we know what a coral looks like that was impacted in 2010 looks like in 2011, and so on.