European law says that decommissioned oil rigs can't be left where they are... but new scientific research suggests that that might be the best place for them, as far as sea life is concerned.

The problem is that, according to various studies, coral, plankton and fish tend to use oil rigs as shelter from both the open sea and fishing boats. And, says Victoria Todd of the UK's Ocean Science Consulting, you can now add porpoises to that list. Todd and colleagues studied the waters around a North Sea oil rig for almost two years, and discovered nearly 2500 visits from harbour porpoises - an endangered species - gathering around the rig to feed. The visits mostly happened at night, and Todd doesn't know exactly how many different porpoises visited, but plans a new study to track numbers, as well as where the porpoises went during the day.

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Currently, the issue of how best to deal with unused oil rigs in the North-East Atlantic lies with the OSPAR Convention, which is made up of the governments of the fifteen countries whose shores border on that area of the ocean. The Convention is preparing to release a new assessment of the situation in the next few months, taking Todd's findings into consideration.

Oil rigs may be fit for porpoise [New Scientist]