Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

 
Sperm whales in Gulf of Mexico

The press release below was issued today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club.

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WASHINGTON— The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has released a final environmental impact statement that concludes seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico would cause significant harm to marine mammals. The long-awaited review comes in response to a court-ordered settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups. Its release comes as President Trump seeks to expand offshore drilling in federal waters.

The analysis finds that as many as 31.9 million marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will be injured and harassed by oil and gas seismic surveys. This includes 80 percent of the Gulf’s endangered sperm whale population, estimated at 763 animals. Sperm whales will experience as many as 760,000 harassing exposures to airgun blasting over the next...

 
2017 Gulf Dead Zone
2017 Gulf Dead Zone Measurement. Courtesy LSU and LUMCON

Today, researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) announced that the 8,776 square mile (New Jersey-sized) Dead Zone is the largest Dead Zone on record. The Dead Zone is fueled by fertilizer pollution flowing down the Mississippi River from the American heartland, which causes massive algae blooms that use up oxygen sea life needs to survive. This historically large Dead Zone measurement comes on the heels of a new report, released by Mighty Earth, which identifies the companies responsible for much of the animal waste and fertilizer pollution that contribute to the Dead Zone.

”This massive Dead Zone shows that current efforts from States and the...

 

Lophelia, a species of stony coral, is the most common structure-forming deep sea coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Lophelia can live, continuously growing, for over 1,000 years and stretch up to 100 feet above the seafloor. Individual polyps are thought to live approximately 20 years, with new, young polyps growing on older parts of the structure, both living and dead. 

When alive Lophelia is often bright white but can also appear pink or yellow, depending on the color of the mostly-translucent polyp. Regardless of the color when alive, Lophelia appears brown after it has died (left, with a goosefish). Dead specimens are valuable in the deep sea community as they form hard substrate for other organisms to live in and for other species of coral to grow...

 

On July 27th, Abby Braman of Madison, Mississippi became the state’s first Pearl Riverkeeper.  The Waterkeeper Alliance gave her official approval on her application made earlier in the summer. Abby came to Mississippi from Virginia and began looking for water activities for herself and her children. She was appalled at the amount of litter and floatable trash clogging the Pearl River and its tributaries.

In a short couple of months, she began #Take2Miss as an anti-litter web based campaign for the Pearl and has organized a September 23rd cleanup that will take in as many of the 490 miles of the Pearl River as there are volunteer section captains. The Pearl River Clean Sweep is being organized from Nanih Waiya where the river begins as a confluence of lowland drains near the sacred mounds of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, all the way to the river’s end in...

 
Stony colony
Large colony of the deep-water coral at 492 feet. Image: "Deep-water Coral Colony" (CC BY 2.0) by NOAA's National Ocean Service

Stony corals, also known as Scleractinians or hard corals, are in the hexacoral family and build hard skeletons out of calcium carbonate. They are the primary reef building corals. Stony corals have tentacles in multiples of six and can host diverse species of fish and invertebrates. Two species of stony coral commonly found in the Gulf are Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata (zigzag coral), with Lophelia being found much more commonly than Madrepora.
 
While most species of stony coral grow on hard substrate and are solitary, some species such as Lophelia can form giant, branching structures. This is not the most common type of coral found in the deep ocean though, and the 2016 Report to Congress produced by NOAA reported that “stony corals were not especially abundant or diverse. A solitary, small cup coral was the most often...

 
Louisiana Wetlands WOTUS Clean Water Rule

The Trump Administration plans to issue a new proposed rule to review and revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) this week. This is no surprise given that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been one of the loudest critics of the Obama era Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule sought to clarify the definition of "Waters of the United States." President Trump signed an executive order in February directing the EPA to re-codify the definition of WOTUS. This may not sound very important but if we want to protect our water resources, this is “YUUUUGE.”

The definition of “Waters of the United States” has changed and grown since the inception of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Various court cases and Presidential Administrations have attempted to clear the murkiness surrounding WOTUS. Why does all this matter? Section 404 the Clean Water Act, requires permits...

 

Since fish species are not generally associated with one single species of coral but are instead found among multiple species, this post is going to cover different fish and invertebrate species that live in the deep ocean and rely on deep sea corals.

Alfonsino 
Alfonsino (left) are commercially fished in New Zealand, but not the Gulf, and there are multiple species that live in the Gulf, including the splendid alfonsino. Because they are commonly associated with reefs and other structures, and they are fished with trawls, there is potential for interaction with coral if fishing were to expand into the Gulf. 

Bass 
There are many species of bass that are associated with deep sea corals. Some of the species, like black bass can be caught in shallow waters, but...

 

Hexacorals are the second subclass that contains corals (and if you missed reading about octocorals, it can be found here).  As their name suggests, many have six (“hexa”) tentacles, instead of eight, though hexacorals with both eight and ten tentacles exist.

Including species from stony corals (or true corals) to sea anemones, there is more range in the appearance of these corals than there are in octocorals. Some, like stony corals, have hard skeletons and look like the corals common in shallow water.  Other types of hexacorals may occur as a single large polyp attached to the substrate through one long stocks, or they are deep sea anemones that look like hybrids of species we are familiar with, like the anemone to the left that has a similar appearance to a Venus-fly trap.

The hexacoral subclass includes the following orders:...

 

It’s summertime, and while many Gulf residents are retreating to cooler climes or just doing everything they can to keep cool in their hometowns, things are heating up here at Gulf Restoration Network. That’s because we have an amazing crew of new organizers and interns working with us this summer on our Gulf Fish Forever and Flood Less New Orleans campaigns, as well as our Science and Policy program. Let me introduce you to the team: 

Adia HeisserAdia

I’m a New Orleans native, majoring in Public Health and Environmental Studies at Tulane University. I’m interning on GRN’s Flood Less New Orleans campaign in Gentilly. My motivation for this work stems from personal experiences with the dire repercussions of unsustainable urban and energy industry development, but also from the spirit of resiliency so deeply rooted within my community. Through my...

 

This second post (if you missed the first one it can be found here) will focus on one of the two subclasses (class Anthozoa) of corals present in the Gulf of Mexico, octocorals. This subclass includes most Octocoralcorals except stony corals and black corals, which are hexacorals.  Many octocorals share similar traits: most are non-reef building, but they can provide vertical relief over areas that are otherwise soft bottoms, such as sandy bottoms. In general, octocorals tend to have large, erect frames that stretch up into the water column above the substrate, but they can also occur as smaller forms, as demonstrated by the two octocorlas found living on a deep sea chimney in the image to the left. Being above the seafloor and in the water column allows the polyps to more easily capture food from...

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