CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is using $650,000 in grant money to research the variety and abundance of marine life that have made their homes around retired oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, a newspaper reported Saturday.
The Harte Research Institute of Gulf of Mexico Studies received a $600,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and another $50,000 award from the Fondren Foundation. The money will fund diving expeditions and remote underwater cameras that will help researchers log the variety of marine life that inhabit artificial reefs on oil and gas platforms. The hope is that the findings will help counter a federal policy of removing the rigs after they are abandoned, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported (http://bit.ly/1drnc3J .)
"There are about 4,000 of these rigs in the Gulf of Mexico," Greg Stunz, the principal investigator and director of the Harte Institute's Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation, told the newspaper. "And about 75 percent of them will be gone in the next 20 years, so we are very concerned that we get these rigs into reef programs so they can continue producing fish."
At some rigs, Stunz said, the different snapper varieties — one of the most commercially valuable and high regulated fish in the Gulf — collectively make up 25 percent of all fish.
Research has already identified 51 species belonging to 18 fish families at 13 rig sites in parts of the Texas Gulf. Another major planned project is to use acoustic receivers at different artificial reefs to determine which ones the animals are most attracted to, said Matt Ajemain, assistant research scientist and a co-investigator of the project.
"Up until now, there has been very little evidence of what's happening on artificial reefs on this side of the Gulf," Ajemain said.
Opposition to the federal policy of removing the retired oil and gas platforms has been fierce among some scientists in Texas and Louisiana, as well as among some conservation groups.
"There's a lot of evidence that the red snapper populations we see today wouldn't be here if we didn't have all of these converted oil and gas platforms," Stunz said.
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com