Saturday, April 20, 2024

Gulf Corals Are Still Suffering More Than 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill


Deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico are still struggling to recover from the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, scientists are saying.

Comparing images of more than 300 corals over 13 years — the longest time series of deep-sea corals to date — reveals that in some areas, coral health continues to decline to this day.

The spill slathered hundreds of miles of shoreline in oil, and a slick the size of Virginia coated the ocean surface. Over 87 days, 134 million gallons (507.2 million liters) of oil spilled directly from the wellhead at a depth of 1520 meters (nearly 5000 feet) into the Gulf. While the spill was most visible at the surface, negative ecological impacts extended hundreds of meters into the ocean.

In a presentation this week at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans, scientists showed that deep-water corals remain damaged long after the spill. Over 13 years, these coral communities have had limited recovery — some even continuing to decline.

Offshore oil platform drilling site or oil rig project seen far in the middle of the sea. (AdobeStock)
Offshore oil platform drilling site or oil rig project seen far in the middle of the sea. (AdobeStock)

According to Fanny Girard, a marine biologist and conservationist at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa who led the work:

“We always knew that deep-sea organisms take a long time to recover, but this study really shows it. Although in some cases coral health appeared to have improved, it was shocking to see that the most heavily impacted individuals are still struggling, and even deteriorating, a decade later.”

The findings can help guide deep-water restoration efforts following oil spills.

Check out a summary of the findings here.

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.