Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Could today’s oil rigs be tomorrow’s biodiversity hotspots?

*Guest post by Bryan Flood -one of several posts selected from the graduate EES3001 Scientific Literacy course at University of Toronto-Scarborough.

ResearchBlogging.orgNew research by Jeremy Claisse and colleagues at Occidental College in Los Angles have discovered that secondary fish production at oil and gas platforms off the coast of California is up to an order of magnitude higher than other marine ecosystems. This includes reefs and estuaries, normally considered some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet.

Photo from: US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management - http://www.data.boem.gov/homepg/data_center/other/imagecate/imageview.asp?ID=292
The authors measured the total productivity at oil and gas platforms and divided by the platform’s footprint to get a per-square-metre productivity. Herein lies the secret: The authors attribute these phenomenal productivities to the large hardscape (physical surfaces of the rigs) to seafloor ratio.

Having a structure that spans the total water column creates a range of habitats for a diverse variety of species and life stages, as well as creating a complex structure with large surface area which translates directly into habitat. This habitat attracts many species including rockfish larvae, invertebrates and planktonic food resources. These form the base of the food web, subsequently attracting adult fish and other organisms.

These results have important implications for the future of the more than 7500 oil and gas platforms around the world that will need to be decommissioned at the end of their service life. Should they be dismantled, or left as artificial reefs? Should future platforms and wind turbines be designed with an afterlife as an artificial reef in mind? Could these structures one day dot the seas with aquatic metropolises?

Claisse, J., Pondella, D., Love, M., Zahn, L., Williams, C., Williams, J., & Bull, A. (2014). Oil platforms off California are among the most productive marine fish habitats globally Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (43), 15462-15467 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1411477111

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