Gulf of Mexico Deep Reefs

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Approximately 200 shelf-edge reefs and banks run along the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. They are biodiversity hotspots, supporting an abundance of soft corals, subtropical and tropical invertebrates, and more than 90 species of fish, including snapper, grouper, butterflyfish, bass, wrasses, angelfish, and hinds, as well as tuna and sharks.

The Northwestern Gulf Reefs and Banks are largely salt diapirs, or domes of salt that form beneath the waters, some of which rise to within 20 meters of the surface and support the most northerly reef-forming corals of the U.S. These reefs are unusual because a high diversity of large brain corals support a complex reef community at unusual depths, and thrive because of the dazzlingly clear waters that occur so far offshore. Many unusual geologic features occur here, including mud volcanoes that throw up plumes of sand from methane discharges, and undersea brine streams and lakes formed from seepages.

Most of these reefs and banks are threatened by intense recreational and commercial fishing, the greatest danger coming from commercial trawling and long-lining, which can decimate both habitat and fish populations. Some protection is offered to those within the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS), but many lie outside their jurisdiction, which is why most, if not all of these reefs should be given status as marine protected areas.

Learn more about the broader region: Wider Caribbean