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Ecosystem could take 'decades' to recover from BP oil spill

Oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill (creative commons photo courtesy

Oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill (creative commons photo courtesy


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, October 21, 2013, 3:05 PM -

Deep sea soft-sediment is home to countless organisms that represent the bottom of the food chain -- but in the Gulf of Mexico, the sea floor was damaged from the BP oil spill, and it could take "decades" to recover, a recent paper published in the scientific journal PLoS One has found.

The BP oil spill - also referred to as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill - erupted on April 20, 2010. The 87-day disaster is considered to be one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history. Eleven people died and more than 4 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico between April 20 and July 15, 2010, causing extensive damage to bird sanctuaries, marine and wildlife habitats.

Massive losses were reported in the fishing and tourism industries as well.

Numerous studies have been conducted in the aftermath of the spill, but this is the first paper to provide insight into the effect the disaster has had on the Gulf's base food chain.

"As the principal investigators, we were tasked with determining what impacts might have occurred to the sea floor from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," said Paul Montagna, Ph.D., Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling at the Harte Research Institute, in a statement.

"We developed an innovative approach to combine tried and true classical statistical techniques with state of the art mapping technologies to create a map of the footprint of the oil spill."

According to Montagna, a typical drilling site creates pollution 300-600 metres away.

But with the BP spill, pollution was found 3,200 metres -- or about 3 km -- from the site, with "identifiable impacts" more than 16 km away.

"The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep­sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically,” said Jeff Baguley, Ph.D., University of Nevada in a statement.

"Nematode worms have become the dominant group at sites we sampled that were impacted by the oil. So though the overall number of meiofauna may not have changed much, it’s that we've lost the incredible biodiversity."

The complete study can be found online at PLoS One.

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