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Pipeline installation boosts diversity of seafloor animals

In a collaboration between BP Angola and deep sea researchers, a survey of wildlife was carried out near pipelines being installed off the coast of West Africa.

“We have a long-running collaboration with BP in Angola to use survey imagery material for science,” explained study co-author Andrew Gates of the National Oceanography Centre.

The research shows that there was an immediate increase in animal life near where the pipes were installed. 

“In a short space of time the installation of a pipeline led to increases in the abundance and diversity of marine life in most areas,” said study co-author Daniel Jones. “We believe this could be related to the pipeline providing shelter and trapping organic matter that the animals feed on.”

“It was also surprising to see the huge amount of litter, which consisted of plastic bags, bottles and aluminum cans, as this is a remote area ranging from 700 to 1,400 meters deep.”

The footage was collected using a remote operated vehicle, a type of submarine that is roughly the size of a car and controlled by a cable running to a ship above. 

“We realized as soon as we saw the footage that it would allow us to explore how the marine life changed after the introduction of a pipeline. Doing this sort of survey is very difficult and expensive, so we were pleased to be able to make use of the footage to understand the deep-sea biology a bit better. This adds real value to video footage originally collected to inspect the pipeline.”

The scientists believe that some of the creatures captured on film may be new species to science, but it is usually impossible to identify deep sea animal species by video. The scientists hope to return to collect specimens soon.

“In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the installation of a pipeline may cause considerable changes in the fauna in some areas of the continental slope,” wrote the researchers. “These changes are very depth dependent and likely depend on both the nature of the community and the potential for trapping of organic matter by the pipeline.” 

“It is likely that the results presented here are only an early stage in a succession of ecological change resulting from installation of a pipeline in deep water, with later stages largely unknown.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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