By Kelly Baughman
Sure we all love dipping our toes into the beautiful Gulf of Mexico in our own backyard, but Betcha Didn’t Know, the Gulf of Mexico is a pretty amazing place that’s more than meets the eye.
The Gulf of Mexico is the world’s largest Gulf and tenth largest body of water in the world covering 600,000 square miles and bordering five U.S. states including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, as well as Mexico and even Cuba. At over 300 million years old, the Gulf of Mexico holds treasures we on the beach, can only dream of.
One of those treasures is one of the world’s oldest living things, black coral. This slow growing coral is rare and grows so slowly, scientist say it could take hundreds of years to notice substantial growth in a colony.
In fact, it has been proven that black coral grows 2,000 times slower than human fingernails. And while not all black coral is actually black, it has been highly coveted by poachers and goes for top dollar on the market. Unfortunately, because the coral grows so slowly, it has become increasingly scarce. So if someone offers you something made of black coral, just say no and avoid promoting future harvesting.
The Gulf of Mexico comes complete with its own “hot tub”, although you might not want to visit. In 2014, scientist discovered what is now being called the “Hot Tub of Despair” off the coast of Louisiana. This “otherworldly” brine lake lies around 3,300 feet under the surface, and is said to kill anything that comes in contact with it. Comprised of a toxic brew of salt, hydrogen sulfide, and methane gas, the Hot Tub of Despair is separated from the surrounding waters by a wall of salt deposits, bacteria, and mussels.
Upon further inspection, scientist found that deep within this unique sea vault were the remains of giant isopods the size of laptops and giant deep sea crabs that had crawled inside the toasty 65 degree hole only to meet their demise. No signs of active life was found, and the hole has been determined as instant death to those seeking her warmth in the normally 39 degree temperatures. Biologist Eric Cordes of Temple University has called the Hot Tub of Despair, “One of the most amazing things in the deep sea.”
The Gulf of Mexico is also home to over 750 known shipwrecks, ranging all the way back to the 16th century. While divers have found many modern shipwrecks over the years, it is said that pirates pillaged the waters here along the Gulf Coast and much of their sunken treasure still lies buried beneath the emerald green waters. After Hurricane Ivan, several doubloons were uncovered as well as evidence of ancient ship parts. No one really knows how much treasure lies in the Gulf of Mexico, but many search her sandy bottom in hopes of finding the answers.
Is it really safe to go in the water? You’ll have to ask the 49 species of sharks that inhabit the waters of the gulf like bull sharks, tiger sharks, and even whale sharks. In 2014 and 2017, swarms of sharks in the shallow areas of Orange Beach caused double red flags to fly keeping swimmers out of the water as a precautionary measure.
Hundreds of sharks were spotted from overhead, and scientist were baffled at the enormous gathering. A few days later though, the sharks moved on to deeper waters, but scientist remind swimmers, “They are always out there, and when you take a dip, you’re entering their territory so anything can happen.”
The Gulf of Mexico is full of beauty and mystery. Whether you’re enjoying a day floating on her surface, diving in her depths, or admiring her from the shore, there is no doubt she is a marvel. Take the time to enjoy her bounty and respect her so that future generations can experience her too.