Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-sea coral-associated sediment communities

Marine Ecology Progress Series
By: , and 



Cold-water corals support distinct populations of infauna within surrounding sediments that provide vital ecosystem functions and services in the deep sea. Yet due to their sedentary existence, infauna are vulnerable to perturbation and contaminant exposure because they are unable to escape disturbance events. While multiple deep-sea coral habitats were injured by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, the extent of adverse effects on coral-associated sediment communities is unknown. In 2011, sediments were collected adjacent to several coral habitats located 6 to 183 km from the wellhead in order to quantify the extent of impact of the DWH spill on infaunal communities. Higher variance in macrofaunal abundance and diversity, and different community structure (higher multivariate dispersion) were associated with elevated hydrocarbon concentrations and contaminants at sites closest to the wellhead (MC294, MC297, and MC344), consistent with impacts from the spill. In contrast, variance in meiofaunal diversity was not significantly related to distance from the wellhead and no other community metric (e.g. density or multivariate dispersion) was correlated with contaminants or hydrocarbon concentrations. Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) provided the best statistical explanation for observed macrofaunal community structure, while depth and presence of fine-grained mud best explained meiofaunal community patterns. Impacts associated with contaminants from the DWH spill resulted in a patchwork pattern of infaunal community composition, diversity, and abundance, highlighting the role of variability as an indicator of disturbance. These data represent a useful baseline for tracking post-spill recovery of these deep-sea communities.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-sea coral-associated sediment communities
Series title Marine Ecology Progress Series
DOI 10.3354/meps11905
Volume 561
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Inter-Research
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 18 p.
First page 51
Last page 68
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