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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


More than 2,000 historic shipwrecks spanning 500 years of history, rest on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Shipwrecks serve as artificial reefs and hotspots of biodiversity by providing hard substrate, something rare in deep ocean regions. The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill discharged crude oil into the deep Gulf. Because of physical, biological, and chemical interactions, DWH oil was deposited on the seafloor, where historic shipwrecks are present. This study examined sediment microbiomes at seven historic shipwrecks. Steel-hulled, World War II-era shipwrecks and wooden-hulled, 19th century shipwrecks within and outside of the surface oiled area and subsurface plume were examined. Analysis of 16S rRNA sequence libraries, sediment radiocarbon age data, sedimentation rates, and hydrocarbons revealed that the German U-boat U-166 and the wooden-hulled sailing vessel known as the Mardi Gras Wreck, both in the Mississippi Canyon leasing area, were exposed to deposited oil during a rapid sedimentation event. Impacts to shipwreck microbiomes included a significant increase in Piscirickettsiaceae-related sequences in surface sediments, and reduced biodiversity relative to unimpacted sites. This study is the first to address the impact of the spill on shipwreck-associated microbiomes, and to explore how shipwrecks themselves influence microbiome diversity in the deep sea.

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Scientific Reports



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