An Oceana robot films the seamounts of the Gulf of Mexico in waters contaminated by the oil spill
The Oceana Latitude documents the state of the marine ecosystems of the Alabama Alps affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Press Release Date: September 15, 2010
Last week, a team of scientists from the international marine conservation organization carried out various dives with a robot (ROV) above the Alabama Alps from onboard the Oceana Latitude. This rocky seamount formation is located approximately 70 miles south of the Alabama and Mississippi coasts.
The Alabama Alps reef is on the edge of the continental shelf and the De Soto Canyon, the area in which a large, invisible plume of oil has been identified. The peaks are 67 meters from the surface, while the southernmost spurs plunge to depths close to 1,000 meters. The entire area was covered by oil during the first weeks after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
During this part of the two-month expedition Oceana is carrying out in the Gulf of Mexico, the organization is focusing on the organisms that inhabit these geological formations that present the highest rates of biodiversity on the seabed, both to identify the immediate impacts of the spill and to collect information about the current state of those habitats, in order to study the long-term evolution of the area considering the catastrophe effects’ exposure.
“By using the underwater robot, we can photograph and record video images of the organisms that inhabit the areas that ended up covered by oil and dispersing products. In the near future, this information will be used to compare the state of the organisms at different times”, explained oceanographer Xavier Pastor, director of the campaign on board the Oceana Latitude.
Oceana is sampling the most vulnerable habitats of the Gulf of Mexico to study their evolution. The organization identified a wide variety of species in the Alabama Alps, including moray eels and scorpionfish, hermit crabs, zigzag and black cup corals, as well as sponges. Reefs and communities of deep water corals can take thousands of years to form and the effects of the oil spill may not appear until many years later. These impacts may include a decrease in growth rate and, in severe cases, long-term decline and death.
Apart from using the ROV, important information was also collected during the dives using a CTD to measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen at various depths. In the shallower waters of the Gulf of Mexico and down to forty meters depth, the use of the ROV was complemented by the work of Oceana divers equipped with high-resolution video and photographic equipment.