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 sand tiger sharks, Hunter and Orion, as well as collection of stingrays and other fish. Tiki a loggerhead sea turtle who lost most of her flippers after being entangled in 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 a shelter from predators and the current. Sharks, barracudas, groupers, jackfish, and other large species also turn up, and a small underwater ecosystem is formed. 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 valuable 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

  • Sand Tiger Shark


    While it may look fearsome, the sand tiger is a relatively docile and slow-moving shark, with no confirmed record of killing a human.

  • Cownose Ray


    These rays are found throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean sea, and can grow up to 45 inches in width and weight 50 pounds or more. When threatened it can use a barb containing a toxin in its tail to defend itself.

  • 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.