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The role of vermetid gastropods in the development of the Florida Middle Ground, northeast Gulf of Mexico

July 29, 2013

The Florida Middle Ground is a complex of north to northwest trending ridges that lie approximately 180 km northwest of Tampa Bay, Florida. The irregular ridges appear on the otherwise gently sloping West Florida shelf and exhibit between 10-15 m of relief. Modern studies interpret the ridges as remnants of a Holocene coral-reef buildup that today provide a hard substrate for growth of a variety of benthic organisms including hydrocorals, scleractinians, alcyonarians, and algae. Recent rotary coring reveals that the core of the eastern ridge of the Florida Middle Ground complex consists of unconsolidated marine calcareous muddy sand that is capped by a boundstone composed primarily of the sessile vermetid gastropod Petaloconchus sp., and overlays a weathered, fossiliferous limestone. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry radiocarbon ages (uncalibrated) on the 3.6-m thick vermetid worm rock indicate that it developed during a sea-level stillstand in the early Holocene (8,225 ±30-8,910 ± 25 yr B.P.). Our observations suggest that the Florida Middle Ground is a remnant of a series of shore parallel bars that formed in the early Holocene and were capped by a 3.6-m thick unit of vermetid gastropods. During a rapid sea-level rise that began ~8,000 yr B.P. the vermetids growth ceased and the worm rock preserved the ridges structure. Diver observations document that the edges of the ridges are currently being eroded and undermined by biological activity and current action, leading to calving of large capstone blocks.