Marine Life Flourishes at California Oil Rigs
(p. D1) EUREKA OIL PLATFORM OFF CALIFORNIA COAST -- Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., the oil rig Eureka, which has stood here for 40 years, is a study in contrasts. From a distance, it looks like just another offshore platform, an artifact of the modern industrial landscape.
But beneath the waves, the Eureka and other rigs like it in the area are home to a vast and thriving community of sea life that some scientists say is one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.
"They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries," said Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara. "It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly."
Dr. Love, who has published research on marine life at offshore drilling sites, said the location of these rigs -- in marine-protected areas in a cold current that swoops down from British Columbia -- have made them perfect habitats for fish and other sea life.
Scientists and divers have been aware of the abundant life here for years, but a 2014 paper that Dr. Love co-wrote, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed what many experts had already suspected: that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.
"For some of these major economic species like the rockfishes, there's no question that there are more of them out in Southern California waters because the platform is there," Dr. Love said.
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(p. D4) "I think it's time for us to step outside the box and think creatively about the resources we have," said Amber Jackson, an oceanographer and conservation biologist who co-founded Blue Latitudes with Emily Callahan, a marine scientist. "To lose these ecosystems just because they are on an oil platform structure, I feel, is shortsighted."
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But over the last decade or so, divers and scientists have discovered that the rigs harbor an unexpected bounty of life. Just beneath the surface at the Eureka rig, sea lions prowl in the crystal clear waters; half a dozen species of rockfish and bright orange Garibaldi swim in the swift currents; and florid carpets of invertebrates and crustaceans cling to the rig's pylons.
"It's the most amazing diving that I've ever done," said Ashleigh Palinkas, a San Diego-based conservation biologist who came out to dive the rigs last October. "It's like an oasis. The structure itself is really impressive. It gives you a sense of total weightlessness."
Over the last few years, word has spread about the pleasures of diving the rigs. In 2014, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Callahan started advocating to allow oil companies to keep large sections of many of the rigs in place after they are no longer functioning.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 7, 2016, and has the title "Marine Life Thrives in Unlikely Place: Offshore Oil Rigs.")
Dr. Love's academic research on the flourishing of sea life at oil rigs, is:
Claisse, Jeremy T., Daniel J. Pondella, Milton Love, Laurel A. Zahn, Chelsea M. Williams, Jonathan P. Williams, and Ann S. Bull. "Oil Platforms Off California Are among the Most Productive Marine Fish Habitats Globally." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 43 (Oct. 28, 2014): 15462-67.