Researchers want to understand how the BP oil spill in 2010 affected old shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico because those wrecks are valuable habitats for marine life. They presented their findings at the international Ocean Sciences conference, being held in New Orleans this week.
It turns out shipwrecks are good for the environment. Fish, shellfish and coral thrive in the skeletons of sunken Civil War and World War II ships. It’s slim pickings for habitat on the barren ocean floor.
According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM,) there are about 2,000 shipwrecks in the Gulf.
The Naval Research Laboratory and George Mason University put monitors near six shipwrecks to study microorganisms hit by the 2010 oil spill.
Leila Hamdan, an associate professor at George Mason, says that will tell them how other species, further up the food chain, might also be affected, “You have all of these little islands of ecology on the seafloor, and that’s something that’s worth studying - how all of these little pockets of life affect the whole ocean floor.”
They found that the underwater ships closest to the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded are eroding more quickly and they have less diverse bacteria on them.
Four months into the study, Hamden says there is much more to learn.