As offshore oil and gas platforms come to the end of their working lives, the remarkable ecosystems beneath the waves come into their own.
One reason for this affinity is that the rigs offer a property rarely found in featureless open water: their considerable height. The platform acts as a pinnacle and allows fish to move into deeper water as they mature, without having to leave their habitat, according to Lowe. Typically, fish living in shallow reefs will leave their habitat when they are fully grown and venture out to open sea. The fish found on oil rigs simply have to move down the platform, without ever venturing far from their refuge.
Many scientists are calling for Californian platforms to be preserved as artificial reefs, given the bountiful ecosystems they harbour. The state introduced a law in 2010 allowing for rigs to be converted in reefs, but to date no platforms have been reefed. That could change in the next decade; eight of the state’s 27 rigs are no longer operating and several will be decommissioned in the next few years.