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.

Animals in this exhibt

  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle

    These turtles, which can weigh up to 300 pounds or more, are vulnerable in the wild due largely to entanglement in discarded fishing gear.

  • Crevalle Jack

    This large marine fish is distributed across most of the coastal waters of the Atlantic ocean and can be found at depths of around 350 meters. It is a voracious predator, feeding on prawn, shrimps, and cephalopods, among other species.

  • Red Snapper

    Named for its red color and its sharp, needle-like teeth, the snapper prefers the bottom of the ocean and can inhabit waters as deep as 300 feet.

  • Yellowtail Snapper

    This snapper is the only known member of its genus. Because of its bright colors, it is popular with both recreational anglers and scuba divers.

  • Nurse Shark

    Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers. They get their name from their ability to suck prey out of crevices and shells with their mouth.