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Overview of Ecological Impacts of Deep Spills: Deepwater Horizon


This chapter provides a general introduction to Part V: Impacts of Deep Spills on Plankton, Fishes, and Protected Resources. As a general overview of ecological impacts of deep spills, it orients the reader to the deep sea environment and resources potentially at risk from petroleum releases at depth, and sets the stage for subsequent chapters presenting findings from investigations of specific biological resources. Much of what is known about impacts from deep spills stems from the significant body of research performed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Therefore, this chapter provides: an explanation of the regulatory and legal context for much of the deep sea research conducted post-spill, an overarching ecosystem-level perspective of recorded impacts, and insights gained on the part of the authors from overseeing government-funded investigative work to assess injuries to deep sea natural resources in the context of the natural resource damage assessment process. Key findings indicate that pathways of resource injury were multiple and varied, exposure to oil was patchy, a broad range of organisms were harmed by (though some benefitted from) the spill, impact severity decreased with increasing distance from the well head, and subtle and longer term injuries were difficult to identify. Significant gaps in our understanding of the effects of deep-sea oil spills remain, and stem primarily from logistical, technical, and funding constraints on our ability to conduct deep sea research.


  • Natural resource damage assessment
  • NRDA
  • Deepwater Horizon oil spill
  • Responsible party
  • Trustees
  • Marine snow
  • Conceptual models

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Correspondence to Christopher G. Lewis .

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Lewis, C.G., Ricker, R.W. (2020). Overview of Ecological Impacts of Deep Spills: Deepwater Horizon. In: Murawski, S., et al. Deep Oil Spills. Springer, Cham.

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