New Perspectives on Chemosynthetic Communities, Cold Water Corals and other Animals in the Gulf of Mexico

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (NOAA/OER) announced the release of a final report, Investigations of Chemosynthetic Communities on the Lower Continental Slope of the Gulf of Mexico.  The two-volume report (OCS Study BOEM 2014-650) presents the results of a five-year study sponsored by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program.  The report is available on BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program Information System (ESPIS).

The report highlights the discovery of 107 new species, including 24 undescribed species that do not fit into any described genera.  The objectives of the study were to discover and characterize the sea floor communities that live in association with hydrocarbon seeps and on hard substrate in the Gulf of Mexico at depths from 1,000 to 2,200 meters.  “With continuing interest in oil and gas development in deeper Gulf of Mexico waters, it is imperative for BOEM and other stakeholders to know what forms of marine life inhabit those waters in order to safeguard them during energy operations,” said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank.  “The incredible range of discoveries made during this study contributes greatly to our knowledge of the deep Gulf and enables long-term environmental monitoring as resource development takes place.”

The multi-year study, which began in 2005, focused on chemosynthetic communities and deep water coral communities that have been visited only once before and where the ecological interactions are largely unknown.  Chemosynthetic communities, which may include mussels, tube worms and other species, convert carbon and nutrients into energy as opposed to photosynthetic communities that convert light into energy.  Scientists collected quantitative samples of mussels, tubeworms and clams, as well as water column and sediment core samples.  Underwater surveys using a submersible and remotely operated vehicle, allowed researchers to explore deeper habitats, establish a baseline for comparison to future studies and create a permanent visual record of seafloor communities.