From: Associated Press
Published November 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Coral Thrives on Sunken WWII Ships in Gulf

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. − A University of Alabama scientist and other researchers have found coral growing at extreme depths in the Gulf of Mexico -- on several ships sunk during World War II by Nazi submarines.


The research team spent more than two weeks off the coast looking at the war wreckage from U-boat attacks to see if deep-sea reefs are viable.


UA biological science professor William Schroeder said humans have put artificial coral reefs in shallow water with good results, but not much is known how man-made structures fare in deeper waters.


Deeper water is colder and has less food floating for coral, which is made up of tiny marine organisms. The scientists searched for coral grown on six vessels sunk at about the same time at depths ranging from 280 feet to 6,500 feet. They found coral growing in unexpected places -- and at least two ships thought to be too deep for growth were partially covered with coral.


Schroeder was impressed with growth on the Gulf Penn, an oil tanker sunk by a U-boat in 1942. The Gulf Penn sank 1,820 feet after the attack that killed 13 of 38 crew members.


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"It's only been down 60 years, and here were these massive growths," Schroeder told The Tuscaloosa News in a story Monday.


The project was started by the Minerals Management Service, a federal agency in the Department of the Interior that manages the nation's mineral resources in deeper federal waters. The agency chipped in toward the $1.2 million study. Twenty-seven researchers from universities, government and private companies joined the expedition.


Hundreds of hours of videotapes, specimens and data from the project that left from Port Fourchon, La., are still being studied. Findings are due in the spring and could have implications for natural gas and oil rigs operating in those waters that may be converted to artificial reefs when they can no longer retrieve minerals.


Robert Church, the project leader and chief archaeologist, said the project helped map out the wreck sites and fill in some gaps on what is known about the attacks. A 105-mm shell that sank the Alcoa Puritan, a freighter headed for Mobile from Spain, was recovered and is now on display at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Church said.


Source: Associated Press


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