ICRI’s oil spills & coral reefs informative hub collates all resources to lớn guide planning và response for oil spills affecting coral reefs, with general and regionally-specific documentation.

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Oil spills have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. Spill impacts on coral reefs vary và may lead to their death depending on species và exposure, or disruptions in coral reproduction, growth, behaviour, and development as a result of chronic oil toxicity. These effects are also felt throughout differing ocean ecosystems, including deep-sea reefs, which can show considerable long-term impacts from spilt oil.

However, research & resources on the impact of oil spills on coral reefs specifically are lacking, & this page aims to collate all available resources, including response frameworks, pertaining lớn the prevention và management of oil spills on coral reefs. This is in line with Theme 3 of the ICRI Plan of action 2021 – 2024, which focuses on reducing local threats through the integration of response planning frameworks. When applicable, ongoing oil spill emergencies or risk situations are also listed on this page khổng lồ raise awareness.

ICRI is actively looking for more resources, at the national, regional and international levels, on the impact of oil spills và coral reefs, response frameworks, and other key resources. If you have suggestions of additional resources please tương tác us.

Summary of Findings and Research Recommendations from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (2021) – Westerholm et al.

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (Go
MRI) was established lớn improve society’s ability lớn understand, respond to, and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution và related stressors of the marine và coastal ecosystems. This article provides a high-level overview of the major outcomes of the scientific work undertaken by Go
MRI, with specific mentions made khổng lồ coral reefs.

Blair Witherington/Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Oil Spills Resource Collection (2020) – U.S. National Oceanic và Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The NOAA Resource Collection on Oil Spills gives a general overview of what oil spills are, how & where they happen, and the harmful impact they have on marine life. Although not specific lớn coral reefs, the Resource Collection can be used as an educational tool to educate & raise awareness on oil spills lớn a wide audience.


Plan: Pacific Islands Regional Marine Spill Contingency Plan 2019 (2020) – The Secretariat Of The Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

The Pac
Plan provides the framework for cooperative regional responses lớn major marine spills in the Pacific islands region và provides guidance on the roles & responsibilities of relevant organisations, regional linkages, & mechanisms for accessing regional and international assistance for pollution incidents.


Florida Oil Spill Planning và Response Tool Kit (2017) – Florida Department of Environmental Protection

A toolkit for oil spill response in Florida, consisting of area contingency plans, maps and charts, regional response team IV, an incident command system, additional documents and software applications.

Oil Spills in Coral Reefs: Planning và Response Considerations (2010) – U.S. National Oceanic và Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Aimed at oil spill responders in coral reef areas, this guide provides an overview of coral reef ecology, global và local impacts khổng lồ coral reefs, oil toxicity to corals, response methods for coral reef areas và concludes with specific case studies

Safe Sanctuaries 2005: Emergency Response Drill (2005) – U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

In April 2005, NOAA & several partners conducted an emergency response drill in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The drill scenario involved a hypothetical grounding at Elbow Reef, off Key Largo, of the M/V Portsmith Trader, an 800-foot cargo vessel carrying 270,000 gallons of fuel. In the scenario, the grounding injured coral reef habitat & submerged historical artefacts, and an oil spill threatened other resources.

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Oil Spill Protocol (1986) – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)

The Protocol Concerning Co-operation và Development in Combating Oil Spills in the Wider Caribbean Region (the Oil Spills Protocol) was adopted concurrently with the Cartagena Convention in 1983 và entered into force in 1986.

Its objectives are to lớn strengthen national và regional preparedness & response capacity of the nations & territories of the region, as well as facilitate co-operation & mutual assistance in cases of emergency to lớn prevent and control major oil spill incidents.

Coral reefs in the Caribbean have been declining for decades, largely as a result of development, overfishing, & disease. An April 2012 oil spill threatened khổng lồ further harm this fragile ecosystem on the island of Curaçao, as oil blanketed an area roughly the form size of thirty soccer fields.

Aaron Hartmann, then a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, was in Curaçao finishing his final field season when the oil spill happened. The spill occurred weeks prior to lớn the annual spawning season for many corals, prompting Hartmann and colleagues to chạy thử how lingering oil contamination affects corals during their earliest life stages. Their research concludes that the oil spill most affected the ability of coral larvae lớn transition lớn their adult stage, and that this response became apparent after, rather than during, the time larvae were swimming in oil-contaminated water.

The study, “Crude oil contamination interrupts settlement of coral larvae after direct exposure ends,” appears in the publication Marine Ecology Progress Series.

When corals reproduce, their eggs amass at the sea surface and, after fertilization, larvae swim for days near the surface before moving down to the reef và going through metamorphosis. Through this process, coral larvae “settle” & become adults. Given this mobility, & that larvae may move away from oil contamination, Hartmann and colleagues examined the response of larvae during và after exposure, in contrast to lớn the common practice of testing the immediate và direct effects that toxins have on animals. Surprisingly, they found that the larvae showed strong latent (delayed) effects, indicating that the impact on the coral population was not immediately observed.


photo of coral reef và coral larvae

“A human analogy to lớn these so-called latent effects would be if a person had a seemingly healthy childhood in a city with smog issues, moved away to somewhere with fresh air as an adult, then developed smog-related respiratory issues years after they moved,” said Hartmann, now a researcher at San Diego State University and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The latent effects of oil exposure manifest as higher larval death rates and arose more than a week after exposure lớn oil had ended. In addition to lớn killing larvae, oil exposure dramatically hindered the ability of larvae to settle on the seafloor, causing added bao tay to an already endangered species.

"The greatest limitation of environmental impact assessments following catastrophic events is that most aren"t designed lớn measure damage to ecosystems beyond the immediate aftermath,” said Hartmann. “We found that long-term ill effects of oil contamination on coral larvae can be quite large. Thus, by not including post-event or post-exposure harm in environmental impact assessments, we miss much of the damage done by events like oil spills.”

“This study highlights the fact that there are multi-layered effects of oil spills,” said Stuart Sandin, an associate professor of marine ecology at Scripps Oceanography & study co-author. “Over time, it will be important khổng lồ understand how pollution from oil – whether it is from an oil spill or other recreational activities, such as boating – affects the way marine animals move throughout the ocean, and especially on the spawning patterns of corals.”

In addition to lớn Hartmann, the study was co-authored by Sandin from Scripps Oceanography, Mark Vermeij, Kristen Marhaver, và Valérie Chamberland from the CARMABI Foundation, as well as Jasper de Goeij from the University of Amsterdam.

The study was funded with grants from the National Science Foundation, the Government of Curaçao, & the Innovational Research Initiatives Scheme of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.