Master of Science (MS)


Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Document Type



A distinctive feature of coastal Louisiana is the unrivaled network of oil and gas installations (platforms) extending from inshore waters to the deep Gulf of Mexico. Since 2007 there has been a 38% reduction in platform numbers with the highest removal rates occurring in shallow (< 18 m) nearshore waters. Many fishes and invertebrates are attracted to platforms, presenting a unique opportunity to study detailed species-specific responses to the river-influenced hydrographic characteristics of Louisiana’s nearshore zone (5–25 km water depth). Prior studies of fishes around platforms focused on a few relatively large platforms in water depths ≥ 18 m. However, about one-third of all platforms are small, unmanned and non-drilling platforms located in waters < 18 m depth. Paired video and hydrographic data were collected at 150 small platforms in < 18 m water depth during the summers of 2013–2014. Fifty-four species of fishes were associated with small platforms. The assemblage(s) included juveniles of 29 species, indicating the importance of nearshore platforms as diverse nursery habitat. The coastal zone was divided into three regions based on broad-scale interactions between freshwater input and bathymetry driving major distinctions in interregional hydrography and fish assemblages. Co-occurring within this expansive artificial reef network is the second largest hypoxic area (dissolved oxygen (DO) < 2.0 mg l−1) on Earth. Platforms offer reef-like habitat features in the upper water column that may offer refugia for some reef-associated species during hypoxic events. Significant intraregional differences in physicochemical features were related to the presence of hypoxia (defined as DO < 50% saturation), as well as the distribution of sandy shoals. Eleven species accounted for most of the assemblage dissimilarities, composing ~93% of fishes observed. Habitat suitability indices for these 11 species provided information about habitat selection across horizontal and vertical physicochemical gradients throughout the coastal zone, and within hypoxic and well-oxygenated stratified water columns. East Bay, near the outlet of the Mississippi River, exhibited less hypoxia and a distinct fauna that included four adult goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara). This endangered fish was observed during spawning season (summer), suggesting that East Bay might support a spawning aggregation.



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Committee Chair

Baltz, Donald