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Marine life flourishes at pipeline off African coast

BP gave a team of researchers access to photos and video footage after industrial surveyors discovered that a pipeline off the coast of Africa had quickly attracted diverse marine life, as well as plastic and metal disposable containers at surprising depths.

(CN) — A pipeline off the western coast of Africa formed an unexpected haven for an abundance of marine life – and garbage – that has captured the attention of marine researchers in partnership with oil and gas after industry technicians witnessed the phenomenon during routine inspections.

A team of researchers at the University of Southampton, Florida State University, the National Oceanography Centre, University Agostinho Neto and Academia de Pesca e Ciencias do Mar do Namibe partnered with British Petroleum to discover that after some time, an oil and gas pipeline off the coast of Angola attracted a flourishing population of diverse ocean life that feed off of organic debris collecting in the structure’s crevices. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

BP surveyors used a remotely operated vehicle to travel along the pipeline on the ocean floor and shared imagery data with researchers to further study the phenomenon.

“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,” said study co-author Andrew Gates with the National Oceanography Centre. “This adds real value to video footage originally collected to inspect the pipeline.”

“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 lead author Daniel Jones, associate head of ocean biogeosciences at the National Oceanography Centre.

However, Jones also noted the abundance of inorganic matter that was now collecting on the ocean floor.

“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 partnership and the find are a boon for researchers who wish to better study the remote sector of the Angolan coast, they said.

“In addition, studies like ours help to predict the possible consequences and management of a range of human activities in the deep ocean, including oil and gas extraction and the decommissioning of marine structures like oil rigs,” Gates said. “The information also helps us understand the potential of the restoration of marine environments after they have been impacted by human activities.”

The possibility of identifying new species of marine life also piqued researchers’ interest from the video footage, and they hope for an opportunity to travel there and collect samples.

“It is generally not possible to identify animals in images to species level, as you can’t see their important distinctive details,” Gates said.” We expect that some of the animals living in the area will be new to science, and by making collections we would be able to determine and describe the species found.”

Jones also said he hopes to continue the research to collect more data.

“As time goes on, we would expect to see some impressive animals, such as deep-sea corals and sponges, growing on the structure," Jones said. “Knowing how long this process takes would be really valuable.”

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