Researchers have discovered that the cold-water coral is growing much deeper than seen previously in the Gulf of Mexico.
A team of federal and university scientists, who were on a 10-day expedition in the Gulf of Mexico, surveyed the growth of deep-water corals on oil and gas platforms using cameras attached to remotely-operated vehicles.
They captured high-resolution images and videos of the deep-water corals that grow on oil and gas platforms to understand their growth and distribution. Experts also took DNA analysis of the samples taken from the sea water and found that the deep-water coral Lophelia has grown at a depth of 2620 feet (799 m) below the ocean's surface on the Ram powell platform, which has been built in the Viosca Knoll area in the Gulf of Mexico, to drill oil and gas.
While earlier analysis had shown that Lophelia had grown at a depth of about 2066 feet (630 m) on the oil and gas platform, the current study shows a significant increase in the depth of the coral's growth below the seawater.
"Finding Lophelia at this depth was very exciting for the whole team, especially for those of us who have been studying coral habitat for decades," Gregory Boland, a biological oceanographer in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said in a statement.
"Our findings complement previous joint research on coral ecosystems and will help policy-makers manage and protect ocean resources on the Outer Continental Shelf."
Lophelia is a reef-building coral and it thrives in the area where there is no sunlight. The corals help in creating habitat in the ocean floor for other marine creatures.
Researchers from federal organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and BOEM are working together to protect the deep-sea coral habitats.
BOEM, which started its first mission on deep-sea corals in the Gulf in 2002, has done more than 13 studies about the growth of corals on platforms. The research team will indulge in more such studies periodically to monitor the coral's growth and to protect them in the region.
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