"We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted by a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth make it very different from a tanker running aground and spilling its contents," she said.
"Because of the unprecedented nature of the spill, we have learned that its impacts are more far reaching than those arising from smaller spills that occur on the surface."
More study is needed to determine if the coral will recover, but the findings so far suggest that there was a serious impact on deep sea animal life around the broken well, said lead researcher Charles Fisher, a professor of biology at Penn State University.
"Our ongoing work in the Gulf will allow us to better understand the long-term effects of the spill on the deep sea, and to constrain the footprint of the impact zone for deep-water corals around the Macondo well," he said.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and includes experts from Temple University, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the US Geological Survey.