Deepwater Horizon disaster altered building blocks of ocean life

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster may have had a lasting impact upon even the smallest organisms in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists have found – amid warnings that the oceans around America are also under fresh assault as a result of environmental policies under Donald Trump.

Lingering oil residues have altered the basic building blocks of life in the ocean by reducing biodiversity in sites closest to the spill, which occurred when a BP drilling rig exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and spewing about 4m barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Researchers took sediment samples in 2014 from shipwrecks scattered up to 150km (93 miles) from the spill site to study how microbial communities on the wrecks have changed. On two shipwrecks close to the source of the outpouring of oil – a German U-Boat and a wooden 19th-century sailing vessel – scientists saw a visible oil residue.

“At the sites closest to the spill, biodiversity was flattened,” said Leila Hamdan, a microbial ecologist at the University of Southern Mississippi and lead author of the study. “There were fewer types of microbes. This is a cold, dark environment and anything you put down there will be longer lasting than oil on a beach in Florida. It’s premature to imagine that all the effects of the spill are over and remediated.”

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