Hardgrounds Beneath the Gulf Waters
Dolphins live in the gulf marine environment and feed on the smaller fish that are supplied by the health of the ecosystem. Over 230 species of fish and alligators also survive in the wetlands in the gulf region. Migratory birds, sea turtles and plant life make the gulf their home.
Rocky substrates in the depths of the gulf’s waters are home to many communities of the ecosystem. These hardgrounds host chemosynthetic communities that get their life-sustaining energies from chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis processes.
Tubeworms and mussels are the most common to this environment and have the ability to grasp energy from chemical reaction instead of sunlight. The tubeworms and mussels contain the energy in their bodies rather than feeding on the bacteria as do other residents of the seeps.
Clams also thrive in the seep habitats and there are two species found in the gulf. Hundreds to thousands of clams are found together in large beds. While these three symbiotic creatures are located in the gulf, they are only the foundation of many others. Limpets, starfish, shrimp, crabs, snails, fish and polychaete worms make up some of the rest of the ecosystem.
The deep-sea aquatic life such as mussels, tubeworms and clams reside in the valleys or canyons that lie far beneath the surface in what are called submarine canyons. The mussels found in this situation often colonize sites of active seepage where they reside in the high levels of methane and sulfide. Communities of organisms that are associated with the mussel beds are usually overruled by endemic species that can tolerate the higher levels of methane and sulfide. They feed on the free-living bacterial communities within the deeper canyon waters.
Normally, the tubeworms colonize among the old mussel beds when the rate of seepage declines. The larger amount of bacteria can feed many different species. The tubeworm communities that age are filled with the non-endemic species from deep-sea communities. The two groups survive by co-existing to form communities; however, later the non-endemic species will rule the roost. In later stages of this diverse co-existence, they normally exist in lower numbers and use tubeworms as shelter and the surrounding area as a food source hunting ground.
The seeps that are considered hydrocarbon eventually die out. When seepage subsides, the chemically dependent creatures die off. The carbonate rock that is laid over the ground during the depletion is home to deep-sea corals.
The corals feed off on the zooplankton and other food sources with polyps. The communities that reside in the rock are the corals called bamboo corals, black corals, soft corals, sea fans and the hard corals. The hard corals are found in deep ocean waters and the amount of these is not yet known in the gulf; however, some have been located in the region. The hardgrounds are made up of the corals, which draw the attention of the coral-feeding snail that bores into the skeleton of coral to eat.