Oil Platforms as “Towers of Life” Enriching the Oceans
For the study researchers surveyed oil platforms over fifteen years:
They found that the platforms tended to produce about 10 times more fish biomass (or weight)– chiefly various species of rockfish and lingcod – than other more conventional marine habitats studied in the Pacific and North Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean and North seas, the Gulf of Mexico and along the coasts of South Africa and Australia.
When compared to the fish production on natural rocky reefs at similar depths off the Southern California coast, the platforms, on average, produced more than 27 times as much fish, according to the study.
The study shows oil platforms add significantly to ocean biomass and diversity as artificial reefs:
The study could potentially inform decisions to be made about the inevitable decommissioning of the world’s roughly 7,500 oil and gas platforms. Rather than completely removing the structures, underwater portions could be left intact to provide habitat to supplement increasingly threatened fish populations on natural reefs.
Thinking outside the box, consider that offshore reefs might be designed for dual purpose deployment. Offshore oil production can be seen as a way to finance multistory offshore marine habitats. From the southern California coast to the Gulf of Mexico to oil-rich coastlines along much of Africa, oil revenue provides funding for platform construction. Decades and maybe centuries after the undersea oil has been extracted, offshore undersea habitats will be providing rich and diverse undersea ecosystems as well as food for nearby fisherfolk.
An earlier post discussed the success of some 17,000 artificial reefs constructed since the 1950s off the coast of Alabama (Alabama’s Private Property in the Ocean Policy). The absence of natural reefs along most of the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic coastlines means an absence of natural habitat for marine plants and animals. Artificial reefs from old subway cars off the coast of Delaware, ReefMakers concrete reefs and old ships in Alabama, like Gulf of Mexico oil platforms, provide habitat and dramatically boost marine ecosystems.
Recreational diving are a revenue source for Gulf Coast oil platform ecosystems (over 1,000 people a year, who especially like to see the whale sharks, as discussed in the videos below). Charter fishing is the revenue source for artificial reefs in Alabama and Delaware.
See also this October 20, 2014 LA Times article on oil platforms as a new agriculture for the deep blue sea.
In Marine Communities on Oil Platforms in Gabon, West Africa: High Biodiversity Oases in a Low Biodiversity Environment, the authors survey oil platforms off Gabon on the west coast of Africa and note diverse marine ecosystems around the oil platforms (map source):
Total estimated fish biomass on these platforms exceeded one ton at some locations and was dominated by barracuda (Sphyraena spp.), jacks (Carangids), and rainbow runner (Elagatis bipinnulata). Thirty-four percent of fish species observed on these platforms are new records for Gabon and 6% are new to tropical West Africa.
Property rights matter both with offshore oil exploration and development, and with the potential expanded development of dual use oil platforms/marine ecosystems. High rise artificial reefs have significant advantages ocean floor reefs that can be buried in sand by hurricanes, storms and underwater currents. Oil platforms are designed to withstand heavy weather. Though not designed as future fishing platforms or to last for centuries, perhaps they could be. Ownership should to be clear to encourage investment and long-term management systems can be set up and maintained.
Consider the strong opposition in California and much of the U.S. to new offshore oil exploration and drilling. Future offshore oil platforms could be promoted not only for creating jobs and revenue for private firms and local government, but also as opportunities to build structures that allow dramatically enriched offshore fishing, tourism, and marine sanctuaries.
The video Rigs to Reefs: Towers of Life story by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation (funded by Shell), tells the story for Gulf of Mexico oil platform habitats. Some 3,000 towers across the Gulf of Mexico have shifted from supporting hydrocarbon power to solar power: they now support the conversion of sunlight to marine life.