On a clear night, the bright lights of oil platforms sparkle in the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of these platforms off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana play an important role in the lives of underwater species who find food, shelter, and permanent homes in the ecosystem created by these big, three-dimensional structures standing on the flat sea floor. They may also play lesser-known roles "above the waves" in the migration of birds and even insects.
Tapping into years of diving experience, marine biologist Mary Wicksten looks at the inhabitants and visitors of these "vertical reefs", explaining how life arrives on the platforms, what species settle and stay (like barnacles), and which ones visit then disappear (like silky sharks). She looks at how different life forms take up occupancy from the surface downward, and she shows how these communities vary on nearshore and deepwater platforms.
While most people may never experience the undersea world of oil platforms, Vertical Reefs will bring a better understanding of it to any teacher, beachgoer, angler, diver, or coastal resident who ever wondered what was going on beneath those far-off lights.
"In the early 1980's I first heard of Dr. Mary Wicksten from other graduate students. She was a faculty member of Texas A&M University and an invertebrate biologist; and, her students revered her. In the 1990's, as a research scientist with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, I had the opportunity to host Mary on a number of offshore expeditions to natural and artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Energetic, enthusiastic, and interesting, Mary made these trips memorable. On one expedition in particular, diving the drowned reefs off South Texas in turbid water with limited visibility, I led Mary and a team of graduate students on dives seeking more invertebrates for Mary to study. Even in limited visibility I could always track Mary, just look for a big cloud of sediment and Mary would be in the middle digging for burrowing critters.
In Vertical Reefs Mary provides a primer on the ecology of reef communities formed on the solid structures of offshore oil/gas production platforms. Although an unintended consequence, these manmade structures support diverse, dynamic, and biologically productive reef communities that contribute significantly to the overall ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. These reefs support recreational and commercial fisheries generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity annually. Platform reefs are a recognized part of life in the coastal zone of the Gulf of Mexico. Vertical Reefs provides a wealth of information describing the beauty and value of these unique habitats presented in prose that is easy to follow."
– Quenton Dokken, Ph.D., President/CEO, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Inc.
"Thousands of petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world are by default artificial reefs, teeming with marine life. Their value in providing much needed hard substrate for the attachment of marine organisms and fishing and diving opportunities for the public cannot be overstated. In Vertical Reefs, Dr. Mary K. Wicksten provides an excellent overview on the development and management of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, while showcasing the biological significance of petroleum platforms as marine habitat. I recommend this book to anyone wanting a basic understanding of how these marine ecosystems function."
– J. Dale Shively, Artificial Reef Program Leader, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
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Mary Katherine Wicksten is a professor of biology at Texas A&M University, where she specializes in the behavior, zoogeography, and systematics of shrimps and crabs.