Future offshore drilling could wreak havoc on deep sea ecosystems

Popular Science | 4/26/2018 | Staff
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All of these steps come with risks for deep-sea ecosystems.

The risks to the ecosystems begin with the exploration step. This is especially true for marine mammals who use sonar, says Abel Valdivia, an ocean scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland, Calif.

Explorations - Frequency - Sound - Sonar - Species

“Most of these explorations happen with a really, really high frequency sound, like sonar, which is really harmful for sensitive species,” Valdivia says.

These species, like dolphins, use echolocation, in which animals locate objects by sensing reflected sound. Valdivia says the sounds made during oil explorations interfere with the animal’s ability to find prey or mates.

Addition - Mammals - Oil - Drilling - Impacts

In addition to affecting marine mammals, oil drilling can have multiple impacts, spill or no spill, on the coral reefs at the ocean bottom.

Danielle DeLeo, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University, says that these deep water coral communities act as engineers that set up seafloor ecosystems and provide shelter for other organisms. Crustaceans, fish, and other animals depend on these ecosystems. When coral feels the sting of spills or dispersants, dependent animals suffer as well.

Alexis - Weinnig - Ecology - Student - Temple

Alexis Weinnig, a marine ecology doctoral student at Temple University, works with deep water coral communities and studies the impacts of stressors like levels of pH, temperature, and oil-dispersant mixtures, which break up oil into miniscule droplets to clean up a spill, on the health of the corals.

She says that when drilling first starts, tiny metal particles, known as drill cuttings, break off and rise to the top of the water. If enough build up, that alone can suffocate a reef. If the reef happens to contain a significant amount of coral larvae, the drill cuttings could lead to lower populations in the future, disrupting the entire structure of a deep sea ecosystem.

Weinnig - Gulf - Mexico - Deepwater - Horizon

Weinnig worked directly in the Gulf of Mexico where the Deepwater Horizon spill took place. She...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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