Oceana today kicked off the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Expedition studying the Florida Keys, a habitat affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Oceana Latitude – the 53 meter long vessel chartered by the international marine conservation organization - set sail from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) with scientists, professional divers and a submarine robot (ROV) equipped with high definition cameras. Among its objectives is to verify whether the spill has entered the Loop Current, a possibility that could imply its arrival in the Atlantic via the Gulf Stream.
The two-month long expedition, which has also gathered a team of international oil disaster experts, will seek to evaluate the spill’s long-term effects and detect the scope of its expansion beneath the surface, working at depths at which the crude oil may have gone unnoticed up to now.
During the first stage of the expedition, Oceana will document the condition of both shallow and deepwater coral reefs – the reproductive and feeding grounds of a large number of species, many of which have commercial fishing interest. Reefs also play a fundamental role in forming and protecting beaches. Oceana takes special interest in deepwater coral in Western Florida because of its vulnerability to the current spill and its risk of future exposure, should oil drilling continue in the area.
Many of the areas that the expedition will traverse have not been studied to a large extent. Therefore, Oceana’s work will provide basic information of great use in light of the possible arrival of the crude oil. All the material - photographs, videos, the results of larval sample collections, etc.- will be made available to authorities, scientific and academic institutions and the media.
Oceana already documented the Florida Keys during its 2005 Transoceanic Expedition. On this occasion, it was able to photograph a rich biodiversity with an abundance of fish, turtles, cetaceans, crustaceans, coral, gorgonians and sponges, among other species. The value of these habitats is enormous from the environmental and economic point of view with very attractive species for scuba diving and fishing (grouper, bream, lobster, prawns...) Many are also migratory.
If the spill reaches the Loop Current that connects with the Gulf Stream, it will reach the Atlantic Ocean and will spread its destructive effect. Since the spill was declared, Oceana has been urging the United States Congress and Government to ban new oil prospecting in the sea. The organization supports the use of clean alternatives such as marine wind energy that also contribute toward halting the climate change and acidification of the sea.
Photographs and video footage of the expedition are available upon request