The only thing harder than pronouncing the name (vi-ah-sca) of this conglomeration of deep-sea coral communities is locating it 1,640 feet beneath the Gulf’s surface due south of Mobile Bay. If you happen to find your way to these depths—most likely through an ROV video feed—you will witness a range of biodiversity usually only attributed to shallow water coral reef ecosystems. Viosca Knolls are home to some of the most developed and well-documented Lophelia pertusa communities in the Gulf of Mexico, and these cold-water corals are a veritable hot bed of marine life. Keep an eye out for the plethora of anemones, sponges, worms, crustaceans, and fish species that call Lophelia pertusa home.
The different coral reef communities that comprise Viosca Knoll are labeled with a series of numbers which identify the oil and gas lease block that encompasses that particular area—generally 9x9 miles. For example Viosca Knoll 906 refers to the deep reef located just 20 miles north of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig responsible for the 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill.
Current Status and Threats
Fortunately, Viosca Knoll 906/862 and 826 are listed in the BOEM database of seismic anomalies which means they are protected from drilling and oil infrastructure within 1.24 miles of the BOEM-drawn boundaries. Despite this protection, fishing exploitation and other human activities such as oil spills can still pose a threat to these vulnerable corals.
Future and Recommended Protection
Because overfishing both diminishes local fish populations and all but destroys the essential Lophelia pertusa communities, designation of these sites as no-take coral areas or HAPC is crucial. Additionally, understanding the impacts of the BP oil spill on Viosca Knoll 906/862 will provide insight into the deep water consequences of this disaster and help to shape responses to possible future events.