Creating New Marine Ecosystems
Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
With its eerie, underwater-like hues and morphing shapes, the black-lit ambience of Surfrider Foundation sponsor the GlowZone in Huntington Beach made the perfect backdrop for marine scientists Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson's presentation on turning decommissioned oil and gas rigs into reefs to support marine ecosystems.
Co-founders of Blue Latitudes, a non-profit organization that is studying the feasibility of converting rigs into reefs, the duo works with partners around the world to come up with ways to utilize the rigs in developing habitats for ocean sea life.
The U.S. Department of Interior says there are over 500 reefed platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, providing "shelter, food and other necessary elements for biodiversity and a productive ocean. This creates a rich diversity of marine life, attracting divers and anglers" and "increased tourism and commercial fishing benefits for local economies."
Echoing this, Dr. Milton Love, a marine biology professor at U.C., Santa Barbara, notes that the platforms as habitats can be "more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries,”
In their presentation, Callahan and Jackson emphasized their goal is to research, analyze and evaluate the ecological, socio-economic, and advocacy issues related to rigs-to-reefs conversions. This involves working with oil companies, environmental organizations, government and community groups to determine whether a structure is a good candidate for the conversion process.
On the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for their work in the energy sector, the two graduates of U.C. San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography say, "Our vision at Blue Latitudes is to find silver linings in our oceans at the intersection of industry and the environment" in order to find the best outcomes.
Callahan and Jackson acknowledge that R2R programs have generated controversy due to concerns that the new "reefs" might increase pollution from the rigs' toxic materials, attract invasive species, and create safety hazards, while reducing oil companies' liabilities.
And, it was one of the reasons that the Surfrider Foundation's Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter invited the Blue Latitudes founders to speak at a recent meeting. With important decisions to be made about the world's unused oil platforms, informed discussion is essential.
Dr. Jerry Schubel, President and CEO Aquarium of the Pacific, agrees. He says, "Blue Latitudes brings attention to a misunderstood and controversial issue that warrants further study and analysis”
With many of the world's coral reefs at risk because of environmental changes, it's more important than ever to find as many "silver linings" as we can.
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