Of the more than 15,000 species of marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, only a handful – birds, turtles and fish seen wallowing in oily water and near oily beaches – have received serious media attention. But what other species are being affected? And what does all of this mean for the overall ecology of the Gulf of Mexico? These questions are explored in the following sections.

Most of marine life is comprised of small animals and plants that nourish the ocean’s fish, birds, and larger wildlife. Marine invertebrates (animals without backbones) make up the majority of marine animals. These animals include clams, oysters, mussels, crabs, shrimp, snails, squid, octopus, corals, sea fans, starfish, sea urchins, sea lilies, sea cucumbers, sponges, and many others.

An all-species inventory of the marine biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico, sponsored by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) was researched in 2009 (fortuitously just before the Gulf oil spill) by more than 140 taxonomic experts from 15 countries. A total of 15,419 species are documented and are now available as an online searchable database, BioGoMx (see Gulfbase.org).

Additional news about marine life since the oil spill:

  • In April 2012, scientists at a Tulane University conference reported Gulf fish with cancerous tumors and shrimp without eyes, deformities blamed on the long-term effects of the oil spill (read more).
  • In May 2012, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed its waters to shrimping. Part of this decision was based on increasing concern over deformities, lesions, and tumors reported in Gulf coast seafood catches. The closure was lifted in August 2012.
  • In July 2012, scientists definitively blamed the oil spill for the slow death of a Gulf of Mexico deep-sea coral community. Read the article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Erik Cordes, Temple University, participated in these investigations and, with his students and colleagues, continues to study the effects on the deep-sea communities of the Gulf.

Explore the Species of the Gulf