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Deepwater Program: Studies of Gulf of Mexico lower continental slope communities related to chemosynthetic and hard substrate habitats

March 2, 2012

This report summarizes research funded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) on the ecology of deep chemosynthetic communities in the Gulf of Mexico. The research was conducted at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE; formerly Minerals Management Service) to complement a BOEMRE-funded project titled "Deepwater Program: Investigations of Chemosynthetic Communities on the Lower Continental Slope of the Gulf of Mexico." The overall research partnership, known as "Chemo III," was initiated to increase understanding of the distribution, structure, function, and vulnerabilities of these poorly known associations of animals and microbes for water depths greater than 1,000 meters (m) in the Gulf of Mexico. Chemosynthetic communities rely on carbon sources that are largely independent of sunlight and photosynthetic food webs. Despite recent research directed toward chemosynthetic and deep coral (for example, Lophelia pertusa) based ecosystems, these habitats are still poorly studied, especially at depths greater than 1,000 m. With the progression into deeper waters by fishing and energy industries, developing sufficient knowledge to manage these deep ecosystems is essential. Increased understanding of deep-sea communities will enable sound evaluations of potential impacts and appropriate mitigations.