Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Beauty of Obsolete Oil Rigs

Ljupco/iStock

Ljupco/iStock

By Ashley Fowler, Peter Macreadie & David Booth

The ear bones of reef fish are telling marine ecologists which decommissioned oil rigs are creating a vibrant habitat and which need to be brought back to land for disposal.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The world’s offshore oil rigs are ageing. The reserves in the seabed beneath them are gradually drying up, and more than 6000 of these structures will become obsolete within the next two decades.

“Good riddance” is a common reaction to this news. Oil rigs are massive steel monstrosities, some as large as the Eiffel Tower with a footprint the size of a football field. They tower over our seabed as an ugly reminder of our reliance on fossil fuels – a reliance we can’t shake despite the enormous environmental cost. Removing old rigs would bring the marine environment a step closer to its once-pristine state and us a step closer to embracing sustainable energy.

At least that’s what marine scientists used to think.

Unlikely Habitats

It’s easy to look at the hard surfaces and unnatural shapes of oil rigs and dismiss them as foreign objects that have no place in the marine environment. Indeed, this assumption led to international policies that require oil companies to completely remove rigs from the ocean once they became unproductive.

But we now know that rigs are gradually colonised by a myriad of invertebrates, including corals and sponges, following their installation. In time, the smooth surfaces are almost completely encrusted with growth, attracting larger fauna like fish, turtles and even seals and whales.

This discovery...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.