We are enamored with coral reefs. And rightly so, the above ground equivalents of coral reefs are tropical rainforests. They are both extremely rich in biological diversity and structural complexity; important ecosystems to the maintenance of life on Earth. In tropical rain forests, plants make the three-dimensional habitat that supports enormous biological diversity; in coral reefs animals make it.
Corals are animals that produce skeletons mostly made of calcium carbonate. These animals capture and feed on zooplankton in the water column. But in addition, they have, imbedded inside their translucent skin, small algal cells that capture energy from the sun through photosynthesis. The combination of feeding and photosynthesis allows these animals to grow very rapidly and leave behind massive formations of calcium carbonate. Some Pacific coral deposits are known to be between 4000 and 5000 feet tall.
In the Gulf of Mexico, there are several interesting and notable coral reefs that may be devastated by the oil and dispersant combination currently being put in the Gulf. Studies have shown that a cocktail of dispersants and oil totally inhibit reproduction of some coral species.
One of our reefs is Pulley Ridge, which was discovered and explored in 1999. Pulley Ridge is the deepest light-dependent coral reef yet discovered in the United States. It is built on a series of drowned islands that range between 180 and 275 feet deep. The interesting thing about Pulley Ridge is that it has many species of corals, algae and fish that are typically found on much shallower coral reefs. And, the corals on Pulley Ridge appeared to be much healthier than the same species found at shallower depths in near-by locations.
An intriguing component of Pulley Ridge is that these coral species require sunlight and there is very little sunlight at these depths. Researchers have found bioluminescent bacteria living on this reef and there is speculation that these bacteria might contribute to the coral’s capability to capture what little light is there. But researchers are trying to solve this riddle.
Pulley Ridge is a real gem of the Gulf of Mexico – one only recently discovered, and one that could be decimated by toxic compounds from the oil/dispersant cocktail in the Gulf of Mexico. If you would like to read more about Pulley Ridge, check out this article. There is also an interesting video about Pulley Ridge.
If you want to help save Pulley Ridge and our many perhaps undiscovered ocean habitats, push for reform of our energy utilization patterns in this country. Let’s not loose this opportunity to mark our mark on history.