USGS finds 2,000-year-old coral near BP Gulf well

Mar 31, 2011 By CAIN BURDEAU , Associated Press

(AP) -- Federal scientists say they have dated coral living near the site of the busted BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico at 2,000 years old.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday it had determined the age of the black coral in the Gulf for the first time. Scientists had been studying the ancient slow-growing corals before BP's well blew out on April 20, 2010. The corals were found about 21 miles northeast of the BP well living 1,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf.

"They're extremely old and extremely slow-growing," said Nancy Prouty, a USGS scientist. "And there are big questions about their vulnerability and their ability for recovery."

Black corals feed on organic matter sinking to the sea floor and it could take decades, or even centuries, to recover from "a disturbance to these ecosystems," Prouty said.

She said scientists were looking at whether the ancient coral had been damaged by the BP oil spill, but the damage assessment had not been completed.

The location of the black coral is important because computer models and research cruises have mapped much of the deepwater oil moving to the southwest of the BP well, away from the black coral colony. Scientists have found dead coral southwest of the well.

However, Prouty said the surface was over the black coral colony during the spill.

BP's well leaked more than 200 million gallons of oil after the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Black corals, which resemble deep-sea bushes or trees, are found throughout the world and are an important marine habitat for fish and other forms of marine life. They grow very slowly - a human fingernail grows 200 times faster than black coral, USGS said.

Most of the Gulf's bottom is muddy and the that pop up every once in a while are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths.

The USGS study was part of a larger federal survey of fragile reef .

Explore further: Measuring phosphorus loss from Midwest crop fields

4.5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists find damage to coral near BP well

Nov 06, 2010

For the first time, federal scientists have found damage to deep sea coral and other marine life on the ocean floor several miles from the blown-out BP well - a strong indication that damage from the spill ...

Gulf corals in oil spill zone appear healthy

Oct 22, 2010

(AP) -- 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 ...

Recommended for you

Measuring phosphorus loss from Midwest crop fields

1 hour ago

Field runoff from farms in the Lake Erie basin is often rich in soluble plant nutrients, including phosphorus. When this nutrient-rich runoff reaches the lake, the phosphorus can support abundant algal blooms ...

FACT CHECK: Both sides in Keystone XL debate bend facts

14 hours ago

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf, say the privately funded, $8 billion project is a critically needed piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs ...

Sao Paulo warns of severe water rationing

16 hours ago

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil's richest state and economic hub, have warned they are considering severe water rationing if the country's worst drought in 80 years continues.

Refineries challenge EPA plan to cut emissions

19 hours ago

A rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that aims to curb emissions from oil refineries and petrochemical manufacturers is causing tensions to flare between the agency and industry groups. The agency is reviewing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jayded
not rated yet Apr 04, 2011
So much for environmental impact assessments.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.