The Flower Garden Banks coral reef is the closest coral reef to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill just off the coast of Louisiana. The Coast Guard states that the oil leak that was left by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is currently still leaking about 210,000 gallons of oil each day. Despite the best human efforts at containing the oil spill, the oil slick continues to spread across the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking havoc on wildlife in its path. As the closest coral reef to the site of the oil spill, how will the Flower Garden Banks coral reef fare during this disaster?
Much has been reported in the media about the impact of the oil spill on the United States’ Gulf of Mexico coastal areas. This is rightfully so, as these marshlands and beaches lining the Gulf of Mexico are home to fragile ecosystems and a variety of endangered species. However, with coral reefs around the world on a decline, and with coral reefs valuable to the human population for food, medicine, tourism, and more, consideration should be placed on the impact the oil spill will have on the Flower Garden Banks coral reef.
The Flower Garden Banks coral reef sits approximately seventy miles from the Texas and Louisiana coastline, and is one of just fourteen federally protected coral reefs in US waters. It is the only coral reef receiving US protection in the Gulf of Mexico.
Currently, the oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is being propelled towards the southern US coastline by ocean and wind currents. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is projecting that the oil slick will continue movement east and west with little movement projected south towards the Flower Garden Banks coral reef. However, the leaking oil is not expected to be capped for at least several more weeks, leaving the oil spill that is currently the size of Delaware to continue to grow.
On top of this, the 2010 hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean will begin on June 1. Most experts agree in forecasts that this hurricane season will be more active than normal. Hurricanes and tropical storms in the region over the next few months will play a large role in how much damage the oil spill will eventually have on the Flower Garden Banks coral reef and other sensitive ecosystems.