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Abundance and Distribution of Reef-Associated Fishes Around Small Oil and Gas Platforms in the Northern Gulf of Mexico’s Hypoxic Zone


Oil and gas platforms (platforms) provide high-relief habitat in the northern Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone that are important to associated fishes. Hypoxia develops near the bottom and reef-associated fishes utilize vertical structure in the well-oxygenated waters overlaying hypoxia. A video array was used to profile the water column and to estimate abundances and depth distributions of fishes before, during, and after summer hypoxia at platforms experiencing intense (seaward) and mild hypoxia (shoal). Gray snapper abundance increased at shoal platforms (10× greater after vs. before the hypoxia season), while abundance remained stable at seaward platforms. However, there was no significant relationship between gray snapper abundance and oxygen concentrations. Sheepshead, Atlantic spadefish, blue runner, and Atlantic bumper abundances varied throughout the summer, but there was no significant effect of hypoxia. Occupation of bottom waters by fishes was consistent throughout the study period at shoal platforms, but fishes were rarely observed in the bottom 3 m and congregated in the water immediately above the hypoxic layer when hypoxia was present at seaward platforms. Nevertheless, patterns of fish abundances were not driven by the presence or absence of hypoxia. The vertical dimension of platforms is a unique and key aspect of their ecological value, especially in the hypoxic zone, and should be considered for artificial reef management.

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This study was funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (award number: M12AC00015). We are grateful for field assistance from Claire Windecker and insights from Frank Jordan, Carey Gelpi, and Kanchan Maiti. We are also grateful for the helpful comments provided by three anonymous reviewers and an associate editor. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the State of Florida.

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Correspondence to David B. Reeves.

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Reeves, D.B., Chesney, E.J., Munnelly, R.T. et al. Abundance and Distribution of Reef-Associated Fishes Around Small Oil and Gas Platforms in the Northern Gulf of Mexico’s Hypoxic Zone. Estuaries and Coasts 41, 1835–1847 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-017-0349-4

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  • Habitat compression
  • Artificial reefs
  • Fish assemblages
  • Hypoxia