Whole Fish

Gulf Seafood + Southern Food

Salt Dome reef, teeming with sea life (Flower Gardens Creole Fish)

There are so many reasons why I love salt. Without a doubt, it is the most important of culinary ingredients. The value of salt truly knows no bounds, but did you know that salt is also responsible for some of the most exciting and productive fishing grounds in the Gulf Coast?

Well, salt domes to be specific. A salt dome is a vertical cylinder of salt that starts out below the Earth’s surface but, because the density of salt is less than that of most other sediments & minerals, pushes up towards the surface with a big, bulging dome or cap rock on top. It’s hard for me to comprehend but salt will actually flow upward through these sediments and rather quickly (in geological time, anyway).

Seismic grap of salt dome / 3D digital rendering of salt dome
Sources: www.tsunamidevelopment.com / www.gocad.ensg.inpl-nancy.fr
If you have ever heard of salt domes it was probably in relation to oil. The Spindletop “discovery” in Beaumont was where oil was first found in the uplifted sediments around a salt dome. Salt domes are good indicators of where oil and natural gas may be found because, as the salt pushes its way through the rock toward the surface, the salt can crack the rock (creating faulting) so that oil and gas deposits get trapped and accumulate. Salt domes are also used for salt and mineral mining and to create bases used in the production of other chemicals (like chlorine); and, it turns out, they make excellent, leak-proof storage containers for all sorts of things (from oil to hazardous waste).

That’s all great, but my undying affection for salt domes comes from other reasons.

One reason is the Flower Gardens, probably the coolest thing that exists in the Gulf of Mexico: a live coral reef located 110 miles South of the Texas-Louisiana border that has formed on top of an underlying salt dome, basically out in the middle of nowhere. Discovered in the 1900’s by Snapper fishermen, it was named the Flower Gardens because of the brightly colored sponges, corals and algae that got snagged on their lines.

The Flower Gardens is the northernmost coral reef in the United States and consists of three main sections: East Flower Garden, West Flower Garden and Stetson Bank (which is 30 miles closer to shore). These three separate zones support an amazing sea life community of Loggerhead, Leatherback and Hawksbill Sea Turtles (all endangered) and serves as a nursery for juvenile Manta Rays. In total, The Flower Gardens support 21 species of coral, 175 species of fish, 250 species of macro-invertebrates and 80 species of algae. Designated as a national sanctuary in 1992, some recreational and commercial fishing is allowed (no spear-fishing or long-lining) but scuba diving is the main attraction here.

Flower Gardens: Bright Bank / Warsaw Grouper

Flower Gardens Manta Ray

And the other reason is Sackett Bank.

The Sackett Bank, better known as The Midnight Lump, is a natural salt dome that rises from 400 feet below to about 200 feet above the water’s surface and covers almost a square mile. Heavy currents from the shotgun waterway, The Mississippi (thank you Corps of Engineers), cause huge upwellings, attracting the bait that brings the big fish, making this the go-to place for Yellowfin tuna, Wahoo, Billfish and many other species. The Midnight Lump (or just “the Lump,” as most call it) lies about 16 miles Southwest of the Mississippi Delta’s Southwestern pass, just south of Venice, the river’s last populated port. It was named Midnight Lump because, in order to hit the mother lode of Red Snapper that congregated at the bottom of the dome, you had to fish it at midnight to sneak baits past the hordes of Kingfish and Bonita that swim the waters above the Snapper.

Map of Sackett Bank (aka Midnight Lump)

The Lump might be slightly out of my range but not the Flower Gardens. This summer, “gardening” is high on my list of priorities. I’ll be working on my green thumb, baby!

Flower Gardens Photos: http://flowergarden.noaa.gov/


Houston Foodie said...

I'm originally from Beaumont so I know all about salt domes and oil. Did not know about the offshore salt domes and reefs. Very cool. Also High Island on the Bolivar Peninsula is a salt dome. Old maps show a ring road around the "island" called the "Oil road." Even today pumpjacks still surround High Island. I didn't really understand why it was called High Island until aerial photos after Ike showed it to literally be an island surrounded by the storm surge.

katarashop said...

nice articel ... thank for share ... ^_^

David said...

this is the coolest and most interesting blog i've visited in a long, long time. i can't wait to go to reef this summer

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