NEW ORLEANS — After months of laboratory work, scientists say they can blame oil from BP's blown-out well as the culprit for the death of a once brightly colored deep-sea coral community in the Gulf of Mexico that is now brown and dull.
In a study published Monday, scientists say meticulous chemical analysis of samples taken in late 2010 proves that oil from BP PLC's out-of-control Macondo well devastated corals living about seven miles southwest of the well. The coral community is located over an area roughly the size of half a football field nearly a mile below the gulf's surface.
The damaged corals were discovered in October 2010 by academic and government scientists, but it's taken until now for them to declare a definite link to the oil spill.
Most of the gulf's bottom is muddy, but coral colonies that pop up every once in a while are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths. The injured and dying coral today has bare skeleton, loose tissue and is covered in heavy mucous and brown fluffy material, the paper said.
"It was like a graveyard of corals," said Erik Cordes, a biologist at Temple University who went down to the site in the Alvin research submarine.
So far, this has been the only deep-sea coral site found to be seriously damaged by the spill.
On April 20, 2010, the well blew out about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, leading to the death of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the nation's largest offshore spill. More than 200 million gallons of oil were released.
The scientists said that they have gone back to the dying corals by submarine since 2010, but that they are not ready to talk about what they've seen at the site.