The impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, the largest marine oil spill in history, is still being felt by some today. Researchers from the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG), headed by Chief Scientist Iliana Baums of Pennsylvania State University, have planned a 12-day expedition to the Gulf to study the impact of the spill on deep sea coral and the surrounding ecosystem commencing June 11.
“Some of the oil settled on the coral in this kind of flock material, and it killed branches of the coral,” said Sara Beresford, ECOGIG Program Coordinator IV. “The monitoring is looking at whether that coral is recovering and how long it’s taking to recover, if it will recover at all.”
According to the press release, high-resolution cameras, mounted to a remote controlled vehicle, will travel over 1,000 meters to photograph the deep sea coral that has been monitored yearly since the incident. These pictures will be analyzed and compared with images from previous expeditions to help understand how the spill impacted the ecosystem and how the corals have recovered.
Furthermore, the team will study the role of chemical dispersants used following the accident. The dispersants were sprayed over the area by plane, or injected at the well site, to break the oil down into smaller droplets, but some theories speculate that these chemicals may have harmed the corals and animals in the environment.
“A lot of this research is still happening and final conclusions haven't necessarily been drawn, but generally the idea is that the chemicals actually hurt the corals and other creatures,” said Beresford.
Beresford highlighted the importance of further research in the Gulf, saying that this research is needed so that future accidents might be handled better. The findings of this research will likely affect how oil spills are best prevented and handled by first responders in the future.
“There’s tons of oil drilling happenings in the Gulf, and they keep drilling deeper and deeper, going further and further out into the Gulf,” Beresford said. “That’s riskier from a lot of standpoints.”
During the expedition, ECOGIG plans to involve and connect with the public. A live camera feed from one of the remotely operated vehicles (ROV) will be available at ecogig.org. The organization will also be hosting live Q&A sessions with research team members as well as an interactive Facebook live broadcast in conjunction with Mission Blue, an environmentalist organization dedicated to raising awareness for the protection of the oceans. ECOGIG will also be posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram throughout the duration of the trip, as well as making educational materials available after the conclusion of the expedition.
The 15-institution ECOGIG consortium is led in part by project director Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.