Platform Communities

More than 4,000 oil and gas platforms are located in the northern Gulf of Mexico, all but 13 percent are on the continental shelf shallower than 200 meters. Each structure provides both hard substrate and a complex habitat where none existed before extending from the bottom to the surface.

Many BOEM studies have investigated the role platforms serve as artificial reef habitat, both for fish communities, and also as hard substrate in an environment where the surrounding bottom is most always soft mud.

 Platform_fish As seen here, platforms provide habitat for thousands of fish. One
Coastal Marine Institute (CMI) study funded by BOEM determined that a
typical 8-leg structure provides a home for 12,000 to 14,000 fish1

 3-weeks-legs  1992-angel-and-legs
The bare steel structure on this High Island A389 platform developed into a high-relief community over 10 years between 1982 and 1992. Eight platform legs in water 50 meters deep provides about 2,500 square meters of hard substrate.

New studies are targeting the question of whether or not platforms are productive or simply attract fish.

 Sergeant-major-1995 A sergeant major fish is seen here circulating water over its egg nest on platform HIA 389 clearly demonstrating that at least some species of fish living on platforms produce and export new biomass (more fish) rather than simply being attracted to the structure.

A new three-year BOEM/CMI study2 is now investigating the occurrence and origins of reef corals on offshore platforms.

 WC-643 To the left are several colonies of the large star coral, Montastrea cavernosa on WC 643, a twenty-six year old platform. This coral is ranked fourth in abundance on the Flower Garden Banks located 30 nmi to the west.

To the right, four coral species are growing on another part of the WC 643 platform structure at a depth of 27 meters. The large coral in the center is the brain coral Diploria strigosa, it is the second most abundant species on the Flower Garden Banks. Below it is the ten-ray star coral, Madracis decactis. The orange coral clumps are cup coral, Tubastraea coccinea. A small patch of the hydrozoan firecoral Millepora alcicornis is also present to the left of the brain coral.  Wc-643-Diploria2
 HI-A-370-A-8 Diving scientists attach settling plates to a platform structure. The ceramic tiles will be collected later to look for tiny coral colonies. The coral’s DNA will be used to determine their origins. Do newly settled corals come from the Flower Garden Banks or from other platforms that are also coral habitats?

1 Stanley, D.R. and C.A. Wilson. 2000 Seasonal and spatial variation in the biomass and size frequency distribution of the fish associated with oil and gas platforms in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Final report to U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. OCS Study BOEM 2000-005. 252 pp.

2 Sammarco, P. Coastal Marine Institute study for BOEM. 2001-2003. Gulf Drilling Platforms as an Environmental Asset: Long-Term Artificial reefs and Sites for Coral Recruitment. Gregory Boland, Project Officer

Photo Credits: Gregory S. Boland, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management