Gulf of Mexico Reef Marine Life Project

The habitat requirements of large native mesopredators as well as several fundamental reef species will be determined using time-indexed triangulated positions from a high-density array of acoustic receptors on selected schools.

GP Schmahl / NOAA

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most important areas in the world for marine life, and in particular its natural shores and reefs that provide food, habitat, and shelter for many species. It is also home to a key marine protected area, and a marine biologist from Texas A&M University in Galveston is leading a $ 1.9 million project to study how fish and marine life inhabit the area.

Jay rooker will lead a team of 13 researchers from five universities hoping to answer many questions about marine life in the Gulf, especially those related to natural shores and the fish that inhabit them.

A key area that will be examined is the Flower garden banks National Marine Sanctuary first discovered by snapper and grouper fishermen in the early 1900s. They named the shores after corals, sponges, plants and other marine life they could see on the colorful reefs. alive under their boats.

“Understanding how fish populations use the Flower Garden Banks and other banks within the extended boundaries of the sanctuary will be the focus of our research,” said Rooker. “We will study a wide range of fish associated with reefs – including groupers, snappers, jacks, parrotfish and sharks – to determine their required habitats and how the sanctuary’s natural banks are interconnected.”

The first scientific study of the area, located about 100 miles off the coast of Galveston, did not take place until 1936, but many studies have been carried out in the area since then. Earlier this year, the shrine was expanded from 56 to 160 square miles and now includes 14 additional banks. Today, the Flower Garden Banks are the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and one of 14 federally designated underwater areas protected by NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Office.

Rooker and his team will use acoustic and satellite telemetry to track fish movements in and across shorelines. They will also use sound recordings to determine the timing of spawning activity to help show where the fish will end up as juveniles.

“The fish associated with reefs in the Gulf of Mexico reside in a complex mix of habitats and natural shorelines,” Rooker said. “The Outer Shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico is characterized by a network of natural shorelines that stretch east along the edge of the Texas-Louisiana Plateau to the mouth of the Mississippi River. These natural shorelines, including the Flower Garden Banks, provide critical habitat for a variety of marine organisms. But our understanding of how fish use these natural schools is rather limited, and we hope to learn more about the critical habitats of key components of this unique reef fish assemblage and improve our understanding of the fish populations in the sanctuary.

The four-year study is funded by NOAA and its National Ocean Service and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences.

map showing the location of flower garden banks

This map identifies the location of natural schools in the northern Gulf of Mexico used in the study to assess school and ecosystem scale connectivity for fish associated with reefs, including the three original schools of the Gulf of Mexico. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Mr. Nuttall / NOAA

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