PhDs study pH levels that could threaten fragile ecosystem of 17 separate reefs and banks along the Texas Gulf Coast

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Is ocean acidification affecting the Texas coast’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary? Texas A&M University scientists collected data Oct. 25­–28 in the Gulf of Mexico to help answer this question and more, as the fate of the unique and fragile Flower Garden Banks ecosystem is potentially threatened by climate change and acidification.

“Ocean acidification is a process that affects the entire ocean and is driven by the combined effects of climate change and CO2 emissions, which are believed to increase to oceanic pH levels,” said cruise chief scientist Steven DiMarco, professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Oceanography and Department of Ocean Engineering, and Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) scientist.

Funded by the Ocean Acidification Program of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and sailing on the RV Pelican, the four-day research cruise investigated the impact of ocean acidification in the coastal ocean environmental of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. It is the third of four planned cruises, with two completed in 2021 and one upcoming in February 2023.

“The decreased pH levels can have catastrophic effect on marine organisms, particularly calcifying organisms that build and maintain shells, skeletons, and calcium carbonate structures,” DiMarco said.

Located about 100 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary spans 17 separate reefs and banks, including thriving shallow-water coral reefs, algal-sponge communities, and deeper mesophotic reefs full of black coral, octocoral and algal nodule habitats. Together, the reefs create a chain of protected habitats for ecologically and economically important species across the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Texas A&M, 30 November 2022. Full article.


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