Gulf Oil Platforms may get a little more crowded, and a little less colorful, with the discovery of non-native black sun coral, Tubastrea micrantha, in the Gulf of Mexico. Oddly enough, the only other major colonizer of gulf oil platforms is Tubastrea coccinea, another introduced stony coral species which could reasonably be called invasive as it has thoroughly spread itself throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
The discovery was published in a paper by Sammarco et. al in the journal Aquatic Invasions. Unlike the invasive volitan lionfish, it appears that the introduction of the black sun coral was due to shipping industry. In a survey of 87 oil platforms, the black sun coral was only found growing on a single one:
T. micranthus was found on only one platform – Grand Isle 93 (GI-93), off Port Fourchon, Louisiana, near the Mississippi River mouth, at the cross-roads of two major safety fairways/shipping lanes transited by large international commercial ships.
So unlike the invasive volitan lionfish, this is one aquatic introduction for which the reef hobby is not to blame. The black sun coral probably seeded this platform from planula introduced by ballast water. According to the research, if the reproduction rate of the black sun coral is anywhere close to the orange sun coral, in another 50 years we could see both species gorwing side by side all over the Gulf and wider Caribbean Sea.
So far Tubastrea coccinea has shown itself to be a pioneering coral which prefers to colonize brand new subsrates like oil platforms. If the black sun coral shares this characteristic then it doesn’t seem like they’ll crowd out any native species of corals. Since the new Tubastrea has been found on only a single platform, we wonder if this is a good time for the powers that be to go out there and take it off before it spreads any further; that is unless it’s black because it likes to chow on crude oil. Big thanks to Charlene for bringing this discovery to our attention.
[via Aquatic Invasions]