Islands of Steel
Gulf of Mexico’s largest indoor exhibit gives a breathtaking view of the underwater habitat formed around a decommissioned oil platform.
This 125,000-gallon exhibit contains a rich variety of marine species, including two nurse sharks and a collection of other fish. Tiki, a loggerhead sea turtle who lost most of her flippers after being entangled in a fishing line, also swims among these barnacle-covered steel pylons.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the underwater legs of oil rig platforms provide a hard surface for barnacles, sponges, and oysters to settle on and grow. What starts as cold bare steel soon blossoms with marine life, attracting sea urchins, crabs, snails, and others seeking food and shelter from predators and the current. Sharks, barracudas, groupers, jackfish, and other large species also turn up, forming a small underwater ecosystem. These man-made reefs are also popular with fishermen and SCUBA divers for their diversity and quantity of life.
While these platforms were once dismantled after oil and gas companies were finished with them, they are now preserved under the Rigs to Reefs program, preserving the habitat that has formed underneath. It’s estimated these rigs can provide about 4,000 square feet for marine life to live on.
This exhibit is a reminder of not only how oil platforms can provide a valuable habitat, but why we need to harvest the ocean’s resources responsibly to protect marine life.