New data from Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi shows that more than half the fish in the Gulf of Mexico are making use of decommissioned oil and gas structures that have been converted into artificial reefs.

A large number of red snapper are living near the reefs "for years at a time," according to the study, with a total of 52 different fish species spotted at 13 surveyed sites.

"There's a lot of evidence that the red snapper populations we see today wouldn't be here if we didn't have all of these converted oil and gas platforms," said Dr. Greg Stunz, director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation. "Red snapper is the most economically important fish in the Gulf of Mexico."

A new grant of USD 600,000 from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and another grant of USD 50,000 from the Fondren Foundation will allow scientists to study the reefs further.

"Up until now, there has been very little evidence for what's happening on artificial reefs on this side of the Gulf," said Matt Ajemian, assistant research scientist and co-principal investigator. "One of our major upcoming projects will be to set up an array of acoustic receivers at different artificial reefs and track fish movements among them to determine the types of reefs these animals prefer to live on."

The research is also expected to cover the benefits of using more decommissioned rigs as artificial reefs.

"There are about 4,000 of these rigs in the Gulf of Mexico," said Stunz. "About 75 percent of those will be gone in the next 20 years, so we are very concerned that we get these rigs into reef programs so that they continue producing fish."

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