The oil spill and underwater resources

Submitted by Sammy Smith (


Image from the New York Times’ interactive graphic that charts the spreading effects of the oil spill in the Gulf.

Many of us have probably been thinking about impacts of the oil washing ashore on coastal archaeological resources—but what about underwater resources like shipwrecks?

In early July, the Associated Press released an article discussing the impact of the oil from BP’s deepwater well blowout that’s sinking to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico on shipwrecks and archaeological investigations of them.

We are hearing most about the oil that is floating and washing ashore. But a significant portion of the oil is sinking down, and coating the bottom of the Gulf—and any archaeological resources there.

The AP reports:

Within 20 miles of the well, there are several significant shipwrecks—ironically, discovered by oil companies’ underwater robots working the depths—and oil is most likely beginning to cascade on them.

“People think of them as being lost, but with the deepsea diving innovations we have today, these shipwrecks are easily accessible,” said Steven Anthony, president of the Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society.

“If this oil congeals on the bottom, it will be dangerous for scuba divers to go down there and explore,” Anthony said. “The spill will stop investigations; it will put a chill, a halt on (underwater) operations.”

As the AP article makes clear, barrier construction and cleanup efforts also can damage—or destroy—archaeological resources. They also note that BP has hired an archaeological firm, Earth Search, Inc., which is based in New Orleans.

We look forward to reading their reports on findings.