The Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill are now confirmed to be responsible for deep sea coral deaths in the Gulf of New Mexico. Scientists say that almost two years after the BP Macondo well oil spill, coral communities as far as 4,000 feet beneath the sea’s surface show that oil from the blowout site bear the well’s chemical “fingerprints.” What had once been full of vibrant colors, researchers say, is now an area sullied with brown, dull and dying coral.

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Samples from the affected corals, located about seven miles southwest of the well and spread out across an area about half the size of a football field, were discovered in October 2010. But scientists only now could declare that the devastated corals could be definitely linked to the gulf spill. One reason why the investigation took 15 months is that some oil naturally seeps from the Gulf of Mexico’s sea floor. Laboratory work, however, has confirmed the link to the April 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the damage included various degrees of tissue loss, bleaching and enlargement of the their outside skeletal layers. Scientists on the project used an automated research submarine to take photographs and samples at the research site. One scientist, Pennsylvania State University Professor Charles Fischer, realized immediately that the area had suffered when he saw an abundance of white and brown coral instead of the brightly colored varieties common in the Gulf.

The findings concern marine scientists because the depths at which seabed coral live are usually are not harmed by oil spill from tankers. The coral communities are important to the Gulf’s ecosystem because they are home to sea life that have important links to fish that live closer to the sea’s surface. These ecosystems take hundreds of years to develop because of the corals’ long life span, so a long time will be needed for the damaged area to recover.

Via Huffington Post, National Academy of Sciences, The Guardian

Photo of oil slicks of Louisiana coast courtesy Flickr (Jeffrey Warren); Stagorn coral courtesy Wikipedia