Some of the support vessels for Shell’s drilling program have begun to move into the Arctic to exploit the melting sea ice, despite the fact that the company does not have final permits needed to begin drilling, its oil spill response barge has not been certified, and it can’t meet required clean air standards for its drill rig, the 46 year old converted log carrier known as the “Noble Discoverer.” With the threat of Arctic drilling looming, marine biologist John Hocevar took a small research submarine down to the site where Shell hopes to drill this summer, and discovered abundant corals known as “sea raspberry.”
Corals are particularly important because they provide a living habitat for fish and other species, and as Hocevar told the Washington Post, “Deep-sea corals are cold-water, slow-growing and long-lived animals and highly vulnerable to disturbance.” The discovery of these abundant corals shows just how little is known about this fragile and unique region, and it also raises more questions. Why weren’t these Arctic corals included in the environmental impact statement for Shell’s drilling program?
The Arctic and the people and animals that call it home are already struggling with rapidly melting sea ice, as the region warms twice as fast as the rest of the planet. It’s a unique place that we should strive to protect, to study, and to better learn what’s at stake as the impacts of climate change become clearer and ever more serious.