Rigs-to-reefs: will the deep sea benefit from artificial habitat?



As a peak in the global number of offshore oil rigs requiring decommissioning approaches, there is growing pressure for the implementation of a “rigs-to-reefs” program in the deep sea, whereby obsolete rigs are converted into artificial reefs. Such decommissioned rigs could enhance biological productivity, improve ecological connectivity, and facilitate conservation/restoration of deep-sea benthos (eg cold-water corals) by restricting access to fishing trawlers. Preliminary evidence indicates that decommissioned rigs in shallower waters can also help rebuild declining fish stocks. Conversely, potential negative impacts include physical damage to existing benthic habitats within the “drop zone”, undesired changes in marine food webs, facilitation of the spread of invasive species, and release of contaminants as rigs corrode. We discuss key areas for future research and suggest alternatives to offset or minimize negative impacts. Overall, a rigs-to-reefs program may be a valid option for deep-sea benthic conservation.