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For Immediate Release, August 16, 2012

Contacts:     Travis Nichols, Greenpeace, (206) 802-8498,
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110,

Government Urged to Conduct New Review of Arctic Drilling After Coral Discovery in Shell's Drill Zone

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace called on the U.S. Department of the Interior today to fully analyze the potential damage Shell’s Arctic drilling could have on newly discovered cold-water corals in the Chukchi Sea. Earlier this summer, Greenpeace submarine researchers collected specimens of a sea raspberry coral (Gersemia rubiformis) from the Chukchi seafloor, where Shell plans to drill in the coming weeks.

“Cold-water corals like those found at Shell’s proposed drill site play a significant role in ocean ecosystems and are particularly vulnerable to disturbance,” said Greenpeace Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar. “Coral impacted by industrial drilling could take decades — even centuries — to recover. We need a more complete understanding of this delicate ecosystem before we allow an oil company that has proven itself again and again to be reckless and ill-prepared to drill there.”

According to the conservation groups’ letter to Interior, drilling in the Chukchi may hurt not just the corals but the entire marine ecosystem where the corals live. As keystone species, cold-water corals may play an integral role in maintaining the structure and diversity of an ecosystem by providing a three-dimensional habitat on the often-barren seafloor — a habitat that attracts and protects fish and other species. For example, Gersemia provides shelter for juvenile basket stars, one of the most important species on the Chukchi seafloor.

“Before letting Shell drill in the fragile Arctic, we ought to at least fully understand the risks to wildlife, including these corals,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the Department of the Interior can overlook these keystone corals, who knows what else is down there that deserves independent analysis. This foolhardy rush to drill will leave behind a path of destruction that can’t even be measured.”

The letter from the Center and Greenpeace states, in part:

“Given the significance of corals such as Gersemia rubiformis to the Chukchi Sea ecosystem, as well as the corals’ extreme vulnerability to disturbance, Interior must consider the impacts of Shell’s actions on these corals before allowing Shell to proceed with its Chukchi Sea exploration activities. Shell should not be permitted to undertake any activities in the Chukchi Sea until Interior has undertaken supplemental analysis under NEPA.”

For images of the coral go here.

For a video explaining the discovery go here.

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