Benthic Resources and Processes Research Group, Institute of Marine Research, Nordnesgaten 50, 5005 Bergen, Norway; Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Electronic address: email@example.com.
To meet the increasing global energy demand, expanding exploration for oil and gas reserves as well as associated drilling activities are expected in the Arctic-boreal region where sponge aggregations contribute to up to 90% of benthic biomass. These deep-water sponges along with their microbial endobionts play key roles in the nitrogen cycling in Arctic-boreal ecosystems. This study aimed to investigate the effects of drilling discharges and associated sediment resuspension events on net fluxes of oxygen, ammonium, nitrate and nitrite in three common deep-water sponge species in the form of explants. Sponges were exposed to suspended bentonite and barite, the primary particulate compounds in drilling waste, as well as suspended natural sediment particles for a period of 33 days (on average 10?mg?L-1 for 12?h day-1). The exposure period was followed by a pollution abatement period for a further 33 days. No sponge mortality was observed during the experiment. However, exposure to these particles, especially to barite, led to reduced oxygen consumption by up to 33% that was linearly correlated with reduced nitrite/nitrate release by the sponges. The changes in net fluxes were accompanied by decreased tissue oxygenation by up to 54% within the sponges. These findings reveal the effects of fine particles on sponge metabolic processes by reducing aerobic respiration and microbial nitrification, and possibly by favouring anaerobic processes such as microbial denitrification. Most of the sponge responses recovered to their control levels upon the pollution abatement period, but the effects caused by barite may not be reversible. Our findings provide the first insight into the ecological consequences of oil and gas drilling activities on sponge-mediated nitrogen cycling in the Arctic-boreal region.