Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) are one of the Gulf of Mexico’s signature fish. They are extremely popular among recreational fishermen and a prized offering at restaurants and seafood markets, as well as a top predator in the Gulf ecosystem. Recently there has been a great deal of debate about the health and management of this important fish. Ocean Conservancy, along with Pew Charitable Trusts, has released a report about the law that is saving American fisheries, including red snapper. Here are few handy facts about this iconic fish:
Red snapper can grow to about 40 inches, weigh up to 50 pounds and live more than 50 years.
Red snapper begin to reproduce when they are about two years old, spawning from May to October along rocky ledges or coral reefs.
Fertilized eggs float on the surface and hatch within a day. Only a month later, the young fish settle out of the water column in shallow waters, and as they get older, they move to structured habitat where they will mature and eventually move to the deeper waters of the Gulf. Continue reading »
Important questions about the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster still linger. Some effects could go undetected for years. To fully restore the Gulf, and to make sure the Gulf and its people are recovering, we need to establish a long-term monitoring and research program. While we wait for confidential government studies to become public, little clues are emerging that give us insight into which species were injured and what this might mean for the Gulf ecosystem.
A study reported in Environmental Science and Technology tells us that one species to keep an eye on is the Gulf killifish. Through their ongoing research, the authors (Dubansky et al., 2013) determined that killifish from oil-contaminated marshes in Louisiana were impacted by the disaster. Specifically, they collected eggs from oiled and non-oiled sites before and after the disaster and raised them in a lab. The eggs from oiled sites took longer to hatch than eggs from non-oiled sites. When the late eggs did hatch, the larval fish were smaller and more likely to have heart defects than those from non-oiled sites. This indicates that the developing fish will not be able to survive and reproduce as well as eggs from non-oiled sites. Continue reading »
We are disappointed to see these projects announced without the inclusion of any sort of environmental or overarching analysis to provide transparency or opportunities for public involvement, not to mention provide the legal basis and policy guidance for addressing the injury caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Three years ago, on April 20, the lives of 11 men were cut short as a rig most of us had never heard of exploded, creating a fiery hell on the surface of the ocean and wreaking 87 days of havoc beneath the surface as oil spewed uncontrolled into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
That spring and summer, as families of the 11 men mourned and the world watched live feeds of the wellhead blowing millions of barrels of oil into the waters we rely on for our food and our livelihoods. We saw images of oiled pelicans and birds washed up on shore. We saw vast amounts of a dispersant known as Corexit sprayed on the surface and at depth to make the oil “disappear” and, ostensibly, prevent a greater disaster on shore. We flew over blue-green water marked with long streaks of orange-colored dispersed oil and watched dolphins weave in an out of those toxic ribbons.
Last weekend my coworkers and I had the unique opportunity to get our feet wet in Mobile Bay and help our partners build a living shoreline. This amazing restoration project took place at Pelican Point near Fairhope, Alabama. Over 600 volunteers, including 300 airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, turned out early Saturday morning to help construct what in a few years will become an oyster reef teeming with life.
A living shoreline is an innovative approach to protecting an eroding shoreline, as well as creating habitat for the creatures that live in the bay. The Pelican Point living shoreline was created using structures called “oyster castles,” which are made up of interlocking concrete blocks. These concrete blocks weigh about 35 pounds each, so volunteers not only got to participate in building a reef, they also got a great workout! Continue reading »
The tan color on this map shows the range of sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico. The colored areas show the chance of sperm whales utilizing this habitat, with red being the highest.
Not quite a new species, but the population of sperm whales in the Gulf is distinctly different from their relatives. So different that last week, in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will be taking a closer look at sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico in order to determine if they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Sperm whales across the world are already listed as an endangered species, but this new designation will recognize the Gulf population as a distinct group and protect and monitor it separately from the global population.
There are characteristics of sperm whales in the Gulf that may be sufficient to classify them as a distinct group. Gulf sperm whales do not leave the Gulf and are generally smaller and use different vocalizations (probably learned culturally) than other sperm whales. Gulf sperm whales also face Gulf-specific threats such as oil and gas development, high levels of shipping traffic and noise, potential effects from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and water quality degradation near the mouth of the Mississippi River. As shown on the map above, the area southeast of the Mississippi River Delta is important for sperm whales. The outflow of nutrients from the river, upwelling along the continental slope and eddies from Gulf currents create unique ecological conditions that make this a productive area where sperm whales go to find food and potentially mates.
As you may know, all sea turtles in U.S. waters are on the Endangered Species List as either threatened or endangered. Since January 2010, NOAA has observed an increase in marine turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtle deaths can occur for a number of reasons, including disease, exposure to biotoxins or pollutants, ingestion of marine debris, vessel collisions, and fishery interactions. The proposed rule would have required turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all shrimp trawling vessels, including boats that fish in-shore and in shallower waters than those currently required to use TEDs. These in-shore boats, known in the fishing community as skimmer and butterfly trawlers instead have to comply with “tow-time” restrictions, or limits to how long they can keep their nets submerged under water while fishing. Turtles drown when trapped in the nets too long.
NOAA has since withdrawn this proposed rule for multiple reasons, but primarily because the current design of TEDs did not seem to protect turtles effectively.