The oil-eating microbes that saved the Gulf Coast from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 are now bad for the environment because they’re out-competing other bacteria for living space in shipwrecks around the Gulf.
“The first time I saw a chart showing the abundance of shipwrecks along our coasts, my jaw dropped,” Jennifer Salerno, a marine microbial ecologist from George Mason University, told LiveScience Thursday. “You can’t look at an image like that and not question whether or not they are impacting the environment in some way.”
The scientists claim that the oil-eating microbes increase metal corrosion and could potentially speed up degradation of steel-hulled wrecks. They believe that the microbes could potentially be ecologically disruptive, even though the presence of oil-eating microbes in the Gulf of Mexico is entirely natural as the region has plenty of places where oil seeps out of the seabed.
There are more than 2,000 known shipwrecks on the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, spanning more than 500 years of history, from the time of Spanish explorers to World War II, according to the researchers.
The Gulf of Mexico recovered from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill faster than scientists thought possible and has returned to pre-spill levels of environmental health.
Before the spill, a scientific survey of the Gulf’s environmental health gave the region 71 out of 100 points. One year after the spill, the Gulf’s score was a 68 because of the oil eating microbes. Since 2010, seafood catches from the Gulf were average compared to pre-spill years.
The incident released 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest oil spill in history that wasn’t intentional.
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