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Effects of oil drilling activity on the deep water megabenthos of the Orinoco Fan, Venezuela

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 August 2011

Daniel O.B. Jones*
National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
Juan J. Cruz-Motta
Departamento Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela
David Bone
Departamento Biología de Organismos, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela
Janne I. Kaariainen
National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
Correspondence should be addressed to: D.O.B. Jones, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK email:


The response of a deep-water megafaunal assemblage to sedimentation disturbance from hydrocarbon drilling was investigated using remotely operated vehicle video off the Atlantic coast of Venezuela. This was the first assessment of megafauna in bathyal waters in this region. A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) design was used to assess patterns in density and assemblage structure both temporally, before and after the drilling event, and spatially, at different distances from the disturbance. High levels of sedimentation occurred within a radius of 20 to 50 m from the drilling site. Megafaunal densities were reduced with high levels of disturbance (from 0.60 m−2 to 0.17 m−2 <20 m from the drilling site). The responses of motile and sessile fauna were different. Sessile fauna were most common (77% total) and reflected trends for total density. Motile megafaunal density was generally higher after drilling (up to double the pre-drill density). Species richness was reduced by disturbance and proximity to the disturbance. Multivariate ANOVA revealed significant differences in assemblage composition with distance and before and after drilling but no interaction. This was most likely a result of variable species-specific responses to disturbance. Megafaunal densities were generally much higher than reported densities from comparable depths in the Gulf of Mexico or from deeper locations in the Caribbean Sea. The responses to sedimentation disturbance were generally less obvious than observed elsewhere and may result from the fauna being adapted to the naturally high levels of sedimentation deriving from the Orinoco River.

Research Article
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2011

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