The Gulf Coast is home to some of the most colorful and diverse underwater creatures.
Gulf Coast Past
For thousands of years, ecosystems along the Gulf of Mexico remained pristine and unaltered except by forces of nature.
Bays and estuaries harbored a wealth of aquatic species in lush sea grass beds and clear salt marsh channels. Seashores and barrier islands provided undisturbed habitat for a rich diversity of organisms. Coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico were healthy, resilient and highly productive.
Gulf Coast Present
Growing human populations place tremendous stress on natural systems worldwide. The Gulf of Mexico is no exception.
Coastal habitats are burdened by human activities, including commercial fishing. In many areas, sea grass beds and salt marsh communities are gone, replaced by littered muddy bottoms. Overfishing has depleted populations of certain species, making recovery difficult.
Coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico today are increasingly threatened. Cooperative conservation efforts are vital to preserving Gulf biodiversity.
Rigs to Reefs
The Gulf of Mexico has been perforated by thousands of drilling platforms since the first offshore rig discovered black gold beneath the sea floor in 1938. Gulf petroleum is now a multimillion-dollar industry that benefits each of us in some way.
Those benefits must constantly be weighed against the very real threat of environmental damage.
Life from Derelict Rigs
Offshore rigs may themselves benefit Gulf species by introducing artificial habitats. Barnacles, anemones, sponges, algae and corals attach to the giant floating platforms and support legs of oil rigs.
These communities enrich surrounding waters by attracting little fishes that in turn attract larger predators. They often become popular sport fishing spots.
In an effort to augment such habitats in the Gulf, the federal "Rigs to Reefs" program arranges for derelict rigs to be sunk on site rather than hauled away.
Life on the Rock Jetty
Often projecting nearly a mile into the sea, rock jetties were constructed about 100 years ago on the seaward side of the Gulf barrier islands. Their purpose is to stabilize inlet channels and protect beaches from the destructive effects of constantly shifting currents and sands.
Jetties provide habitat for many rocky shore organisms formerly absent from the western Gulf. They also attract larger species popular with sports fishermen.
Barnacles often choose the hard surface of a jetty to set up housekeeping. A barnacle cements its head to a jetty rock, leaving its feathery legs free to gather food. After death, its eyes and feelers gradually wither away.