The ecosystem under the MX-1 platform (Yuri Hooker / CDO)

Peru - Rig Removal Law Threatens Vibrant Artificial Reef off Peru

At five o’clock in the morning, the skies begin to clear over the Los Órganos docks in northern Peru, less than 200 kilometres from the border with Ecuador. As dozens of boats loaded with fish begin to arrive at the port, pelicans, turtles, sea lions and seagulls congregate to gorge on any leftover catch.

A few kilometres off shore, away from the buzz of activity in this small fishing hub, stands a rusting oil platform that has attracted attention after finding a new and unexpected purpose.

The MX-1 rig, which was retired in 2011 after more than two decades in operation, has since become a marine biodiversity hotspot, researchers say. “This is the habitat of many species, new to science as well as endemic,” says Yuri Hooker, a marine biologist with more than 30 years’ experience researching the Peruvian sea. He says manta rays, whale sharks and meadows of sea fan corals can be found around the platform, as well as a seemingly “infinite” abundance of fish species.

The ecosystem of the platform hosts damselfishes and other species vital to small-scale fishing in northern Peru, so it attracts many artisanal fishers and divers (Image: Yuri Hooker)

But soon, the accidental reef may have to be removed due to legal requirements. Marine biologists, conservationists and many in local communities are worried that this rich newfound ecosystem will disappear along with it.

An unexpected ecosystem

The MX-1 platform is one of seven disused oil platforms along Peru’s northern coast – all owned by state oil company Petroperú – that are currently facing removal. But, having emerged as an underwater sanctuary, it has attracted the most attention.

Anchored off Los Órganos since 1985, the end of the search for oil at MX-1 and its subsequent abandonment allowed the rig to flourish as the home of 26 fish species and 57 invertebrate species, according to the latest study by Hooker.

The rough surfaces of the MX-1 structure are ideal for marine organisms to attach to, Hooker explains. The solid piles anchored to the seabed encourage the habitation of corals, invertebrates and algae.

MX-1’s location among warm waters and the meeting of ocean currents has helped to create an abundant ecosystem. Though the region sees seasonal variations, the sea off Los Órganos has an average annual surface temperature of around 20C, while the warm South Pacific Current converges here with the cold Humboldt Current. The latter transports colder water and nutrients from the depths to the surface and helps biological productivity in the Los Órganos area, feeding the entire trophic chain.

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