IOLR Coral Expert Quoted on Gulf Restoration

IOLR coral expert Prof. Buki Rinkevich was quoted in a recent Associated Press (AP) article, “Uncharted waters: Restoring deep Gulf fouled by BP spill”, that discusses environmental restoration in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 BP oil spill. The article notes that restoring ecosystems in the deep sea off the continental shelf has never been attempted, and it is unclear what can be done.


AP Writer Cain Burdeau reports that deep water coral reefs as much as 5,000 feet below the Gulf surface were damaged by the spill, contaminated by oil residues that have stunted growth. The deep water ecosystem is important because of its connections to shallow waters and its role as a source of nutrients for the oceanic food web.

Ideas for repairing the deep Gulf include dumping oyster shell, limestone and manufactured “reef balls” into the ocean for coral and fish to colonize. Also being considered is transplanting healthy coral to deep reefs damaged by oil. This has never been done before, nor has growing deep-sea coral in laboratories been attempted.

As one of the world’s top coral restoration experts, IOLR’s Prof. Rinkevich was asked about this plan. He responded that restoration of deep-water corals is stymied by a lack of knowledge of their biology. Techniques for restoring shallow-water corals have not been tried with deep-water corals, so it is not known if such interventions are likely to succeed.

In any case, recovery of the deep coral reefs will be slow, since life forms in the deep grow at about 10% of the rate of shallow water species. However, Brittany Croll, a NOAA environmental scientist who has worked on the Gulf restoration plans, is hopeful that habitat restoration in shallower waters may help indirectly the deep offshore marine communities because many species migrate from both places.

For more information, see the full article, “Uncharted waters: Restoring deep Gulf fouled by BP spill”, as published in the Chicago Tribune June 3, 2016.