T he water was perfectly calm. Occasionally a light breeze would stir up a ripple, but there was no wave action to speak of and the waters were unusually clear. And as we pulled up to a weedline that had built up on a current rip, I was astounded at its size.
The sargassum (most just call it seaweed) covered a strip about 25 yards deep for several miles and it was teeming with life.
Curiosity got the best of me and I took a dip net to pull up a handful. Amongst the pieces was a little crab that looked exactly like the habitat it was living in. It was a sargassum crab one of nature’s masters of camouflage.
We were hoping to catch dorado (Mahi Mahi) that day and cruised the weedline scanning for any signs of the beautiful fish.
As our momentum slowed down to a crawl, I noticed movement beneath the weeds and found myself eye to eye with an eight-foot-long bull shark. I was in the boat so it wasn’t as if I was in any danger, so my reaction was one of awe.
That day, many years ago, was the first-time conditions were right for me to take in so much of the Gulf’s beauty at once.
Since then, I have peered through the lens of a scuba mask at its majesty, explored its barrier islands, watched giant schools of redfish feed at the surface and seen many beautiful sights within its borders but on that day, the real Gulf of Mexico was revealed to me.
One can get a pretty good look at the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and even the Arctic and Indian Oceans through television programs and a variety of media coverage but little is spoken about the Gulf.
Other than the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, when was the last time you saw anything about the Gulf at a national level?
If you saw one program, it was more than I have seen and I seek out this kind of stuff on a regular basis.
The Gulf of Mexico is the place where the redfish and flounder we pursue spawn in the fall and winter. It is the home of red snapper, dorado, king mackerel, amberjack, grouper and so many other offshore fish that thrill anglers. It is home to the gorgeous Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s northernmost coral reef. It is home to Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and dozens of other marine mammal species.
It is a place of life and life abundant.
We who live along its coast need to be appreciative of its beauty and the recreational opportunities it gives us. Do you like to eat shrimp, crabs or oyster? If you do, then you owe it to the Gulf of Mexico and its tributaries.
We need to support measures that aid clean water and innovations that can ensure a more sustainable future for our aquatic resources.
Clean water and abundant wildlife are not a “green” issue or a liberal or conservative one. Those are issues that all humans should agree on and strive toward as we learn from mistakes of the past.
That is what our “Wild Gulf” series has been about and the response has been tremendous.
Our June article on octopus in the Gulf has the best overall response of anything we have published in several years with lots of social media chatter and numerous emails. While many have fished the Gulf, not very many have ventured beneath the surface and seen the incredible biodiversity.
The aforementioned lack of media coverage has ensured you have to seek out info on the Gulf from alternative sources to get any.
The first step of what we and our Kingdom Zoo Crue (yes, C-R-U-E) took was at the NOAA turtle facility at Galveston. There they rear loggerhead sea turtles from the hatching phase up to two years to release back into the wild and also head up testing of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for shrimp trawls. My wife Lisa and I took three of our Kingdom Zoo kids—Abby, Rachel and Erin—to shoot some social media clips while I spoke with officials for future stories.
What we learned from the awesome volunteers who did the turtle education presentation was how all elements of the Gulf work together.
Remember the sargassum at the beginning of the story?
That’s where the baby sea turtles go when they hatch. They swim out to the sargassum where they find plenty of food and shelter.
Something we anglers often find annoying is actually hugely beneficial for our marine ecosystem. Back when I saw that big bull shark beneath the weed line I knew of the unique creatures that dwelled amongst the sargassum but had no idea about its importance to baby sea turtles.
The Gulf still has many things to teach us and to reveal.
In the coming weeks, many of us will take to the surf to catch bull reds moving into spawn. Others like myself love that but are even more excited about the flounder migrating out to the Gulf in November.
Our entire coastal fishing life is based on what the Gulf provides and it has been an hour and privilege this summer to seek out, dive in and focus on its unique creatures.
You see, here at Texas Fish & Game, the Gulf is not the forgotten sea at all. It’s our backyard and we plan on doing our best to keep it good shape.
Email Chester Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org