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Accidental Ecologist, Winter 2006

Accidental Ecologist, Winter 2006

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Published by CoastNet

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Published by: CoastNet on Jan 05, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/17/2009

 
8
The edge
Winter 2006
S
killed and experiencedengineers from some of thelargest engineering firms in theworld designed and built theoil and gas platforms for offshoreCalifornia. They did a good job,because the resulting structures havewithstood wind and wave for decadesin water depths up to 1,200 feet. Butwhile the designers focused intentlyon deck loads and sheer forces to buildplatforms for drilling and production,they inadvertently built structuresideally shaped and configured for fishand marine life. As these platformsapproach the end of their producinglives, we arebeginning to deal withthese unintended consequences.Almost immediately after theCalifornia platforms were installed,the growth of marine life on andaround the structures wasunmistakable. Over the years, theunderwater portions of the platformsbecame home to mature reef ecosystems of fishes and invertebrates.Some of the easily accessible platformsare popular destinations forrecreational fishermen. Divers andunderwater photographers areattracted to the structures by a varietyand abundance of marine life thatmakes them the best dive sites in theState. The marine growth on theplatform legs is so prolific that itrequires periodic removal to maintainplatform stability. The contractor whocleans the legs also collects theremoved mussels and scallops for saleinto the local restaurant trade.The platforms received little attentionfrom marine scientists until the USGeological Survey (USGS) funded astudy in 1995 to determine the rolethey play in the marine environment,if any. Dr Milton Love of the MarineScience Institute, University of California at Santa Barbara assembledasmall team and began to survey thefish populations on several of theplatforms. His team traversed theentirevertical reach of the structures,using scuba diving equipment for theshallow portions and a two-personsubmarine to reach the bottoms. Theresults confirmed the anecdotalevidence of extensive marine life, andthe surveys became annual events forLove and his team. The research data,collected in a consistent manner for 10
When the offshore oil and gas runs out and the oil industry packs up and goes home, itleaves an unintended and surprising ecological legacy. But not everyone is so enamouredwith this newly discovered by-product of the oil rigs as George Steinbach, Executive Directorof the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program explains.
The accidentalecologists
Underwater home.
From l-r: Greenspottedrockfish at bottom of Platform Grace; Starfishin shallow midwaters at Platform Holly; juvenile bocaccio at Platform Gilda; flagrockfish at bottom of Platform Grace; juvenilevermillion rockfish at Platform Gilda and juvenile yellowtail rockfish at Platform Irene.

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