Gulf Corals in Oil Spill Zone Appear Healthy

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Skoloff Associated Press Writer

ON THE FLOOR OF THE GULF OF MEXICO Just 20 miles north of where BPs 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 deepwater habitats.

Plankton, tiny suspended particles that form the base of the oceans food web, float en masse 1,400 feet beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, forming a snowy-like underwater scene as they move with the currents outside the windows of a two-man sub creeping a few feet off the seafloor.

Crabs, starfish and other deep sea creatures swarm small patches of corals, and tiny sea anemones sprout from the sand like miniature forests across a lunar-like landscape illuminated only by the lights of the sub, otherwise living in a deep, dark environment far from the suns reach.

Scientists are currently in the early stages of studying what effects, if any, BP PLCs April 20 oil well blowout off Louisiana and the ensuing crude gusher has had on the delicate deep sea coral habitats of the northern Gulf.

So far, it appears the area dodged a bullet, but more research is needed. Some of the deep sea corals near the spill site were only discovered just last year.

"Originally, when we saw the trajectory for the oil spill and where it was going, we were very concerned that these habitats would be impacted," said researcher Steve Ross of the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Ross and others are conducting research from a Greenpeace ship in the Gulf, using a two-man sub as they work to determine if the corals have suffered damage, or may take a hit from long-term impacts, such as stunted reproduction rates.

"We thought certainly that . …