Sustaining Ocean Habitats

Lobed star coral. Photo credit: Flower Garden Banks/NOAA.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to more than 750 estuaries and bays, whose marshes and sea grasses provide nurseries for fish, shrimp, sea turtles and manatees, and food for wintering waterfowl .  The Gulf also contains an enormous variety of corals, including the Florida Keys - an extensive shallow reef system- and spectacular unique deep water reefs that run from Florida to Texas.

Some of our most significant deep water reefs include:

  • Madison Swanson, Steamboat Lumps, and The Edges: these reefs off the Gulf coast of Florida, made up of limestone cliffs and rocky outcrops, support arrow and hermit crabs, basket stars, sea fans and stony coral;
  • Viosca Knolls: a conglomeration of deep-sea coral community due south of Mobile 1,640 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. These corals sustain a range of diversity generally only seen in shallow water coral reef systems; and
  • The South Texas Banks: also known by local fishermen as the snapper banks, these reefs range from 12 to 45 miles off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas at depths from 190 to 270 feet, including Southern Bank, Hospital Bank, and Mysterious Bank. These reefs support a wide variety of fish.

Sadly, all of these habitats are at risk. The intentional discharges of untreated sewage, chemicals, oil and dispersants, discarded fishing gear, garbage, and other pollutants threaten these critical underwater environments.

Dredging to maintain channels for the transport of goods or access to oil and gas deposits also destroys marshes and seagrasses, and degrades water quality in the Gulf. Additionally, the use of the Gulf as a highway for ship traffic results in habitat destruction from pollution, ship groundings, and anchor damage.

Healthy Gulf works to protect marine habitats by:

  • Resisting unrestricted, permitted destruction of coastal bays, marshes, and swamps for development and/or shipping,
  • Reducing the discharge of pollution into the Gulf;
  • Pressing for state and federal agencies to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for  oil spills and other harm they inflict on the environment; and
  • Advocating for the protection of the Gulf’s shallow and deep water corals.

Ensuring these habitats' long-term health is critical to protecting the Gulf’s marine species and the cultures and economies of our coastal communities that depend on them.

Texas Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Photo credit: NOAA.

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