First evidence of BP oil spill damage to corals

From the NYT: A survey of the sea floor near BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has turned up dead and dying coral reefs that were probably damaged by the oil spill, scientists said on Friday.

The coral sites lie seven miles southwest of the well, at a depth of about 4,500 feet, in an area where large plumes of dispersed oil were discovered drifting through the deep ocean last spring in the early weeks after the spill.

The large swaths of darkened coral and other damaged marine organisms were almost certainly dying from exposure to toxins, scientists said.

The corals were discovered on Tuesday by scientists aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, using a submersible robot equipped with still and video cameras and sampling tools.

The documented presence of oil plumes in the area, the close proximity of BP’s well and the recent nature of the die-off make it highly likely that the spill was responsible, said Charles Fisher, a marine biologist from Penn State University who is the chief scientist on the gulf expedition, which was financed by the federal government.

‘I think that we have a smoking gun,” he said. “The circumstantial evidence is very strong that it’s linked to the spill.”

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