Sargassum - The Nursery of the Gulf
Monday, October 04
Most people call it seaweed, weedlines or grass, but the correct name for the weeds floating offshore of Alabama’s Coast out in the Gulf of Mexico is sargassum. As scientists and researchers begin to study these free-floating grass lines, we’ve learned that they’re not just a great place to catch dolphin, marlin, wahoo, tuna, tripletails and many of the other pelagic species, but they’re also the nursery of the Gulf of Mexico. As fishermen leave the Port of Orange Beach on 8-, 10- and 12-hour and 2-day trips to catch red snapper starting this Friday, October 1, they more than likely will see these sargassum weedlines. Research completed by Dr. Jonathan Gorum and his research team, the Inwater Research Group, has uncovered one of the biggest mysteries on the Alabama Gulf Coast – where the baby sea turtles go once they hatch-out of the eggs on the beaches of Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
“We’re working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to complete an offshore sea-turtle study and recovery project related to the oil spill last spring in the Gulf of Mexico,” Gorum says. “We began studying offshore deep-water habitats, primarily sargassum weedlines, in May, 2010. Through our studies, we’ve learned that sargassum weedlines are home to a large number of pelagic phase sea turtles that may only be 1- or 2-years old. The baby sea turtles use the sargassum lines as developmental habitat – a place to find shelter and forage for food before they grow to a size that will allow them to move into shallow-water habitats where we generally see them.” Until this study was started, very-little was known about the pelagic phase of these baby sea turtles, including where the baby sea turtles on Alabama’s Gulf Coast went after they hatched. “We discovered that there are a number of baby sea turtles living in the sargassum weed offshore of Alabama’s Coast,” Gorum explains. “We found more Kemp’s ridley turtles, which is the most-endangered species of sea turtles, living in the sargassum than we originally thought lived there. We’d hoped to see three-different species of sea turtles – the Kemp’s ridley, the green and the loggerhead. But we also spotted a few Hawksbill sea turtles, which are on the critically-endangered sea-turtle list. The Hawksbill is uncommon in this area of the Gulf of Mexico and generally is associated with coral reefs. However, in the pelagic phase, the turtles drift with the current and move with the sargassum weed.”
Studies conducted by Dr. Jim Franks and Dr. Read Hendon at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi also indicate that sargassum weed is the home for juvenile tripletails, one of the most-mysterious fish that swims in the Gulf of Mexico. This fish is much like a chameleon; it can change colors, depending on the type of structure on which it’s holding. For instance, in the sargassum weed, the tripletail may have a greenish color. If it’s feeding under a piece of plywood floating in the Gulf of Mexico, the tripletail may be more of a brownish color. If it’s feeding under a piece of white plastic, the tripletail’s color may be silver, and if it’s holding next to a black buoy, the tripletail may appear black. The tripletail, fun to catch and delicious to eat, is generally found on Alabama’s Gulf Coast during the fall.
Because of this research, we’ve learned that the weedlines off Alabama’s Gulf Coast may be the biggest nursery for saltwater fishes in the entire Gulf of Mexico. We’ve learned that the baby sea turtles, the tripletails, the mahi mahi (dolphin fish), the wahoo, the marlin and the tuna often set-up residency along these long weedlines. So, as you’re fishing for snapper during the red-snapper season, which runs from October 1 to 12:01 am on November 22, smile when you pass a patch of sargassum. That’s a true nursery for much of the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.
To take an impromptu fishing trip alone or with one or two friends, you can go on a party boat and have a great day of fishing. Most party boats will run a 6-hour trip in the morning and a 4-hour trip in the afternoon, and the prices are very affordable. If you have six or more in your party, you can charter a private boat for a 4-, a 6-, an 8-, a 10- or a 12-hour trip or a 2-day trip. To eat the most-delicious fish you’ve ever tasted, plan to have your fresh catch cooked at one of our local restaurants according to your specifications. These restaurants also will provide the side dishes and drinks for a nominal fee.