Roughtongue bass group

Note the difference in the eye size (white arrows) of the pelagic species Systellaspis (above) that lives between 500-700 m depth, and Glyphocrangon (below) that lives between 700-1500 m depth. Click image for larger view.

Pinnacles Profile


Along the edge of the continental shelf from the Missippi River Delta to the DeSoto Canyon, southeast of the Florida/Alabama border, a broad band of "drowned reefs" or "fossil reefs" occur from water depths of approximately 70 m to over 120 m (230 to 400 ft). In the 1930’s scientists discovered reef-like structures in the northwestern Gulf off Texas and Louisiana that they called "pinnacles" due to their tall, steep-sided shape.

Roughtongue bass

A close-up view of a roughtongue bass. Click image for larger view.

In the 1950’s, geologists also discovered a band of similar reef structures south of Mississippi and Alabama, an area now generally known as "The Pinnacles". Pinnacles reefs are currently too deep for reef-building corals to grow, and scientists suggested that these reefs were formed during low sea levels associated with the last ice age. Due to the occurrence of valuable oil and gas resources in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, government agencies have sponsored extensive research programs to study the geology, biology and oceanography of these shelf-edge reef communities.

Tube worm colony

Close up of a Tube worm colony

Tube worm colonies are associated with hydrocarbon and brine seeps in deepwater areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and occur in the deeper waters surrouding the Pinnacles. These images were taken by Dr. Sylvia Earle at 1800’ during the Islands in the Stream expedition. Click images for a larger view.

Yellowtail Reef relief map

The Pinnacles area (left) in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, and Yellowtail Reef (right), the study site visited during the Sustainable Seas Expedition during June 2001. Depth contours on the Yellowtail Reef map are in meters. Click images for a larger view.

While no reef-building corals currently exist on reefs at the Pinnacles, invertebrate communities are considered to be of tropical Atlantic origin and are dominated by soft corals, sponges, crinoids, black corals and small, solitary hard corals. Reef fish communities include a number of species that are not found on shallow coral reefs, including the roughtongue bass and red barbier, the most abundant species on reefs in this region. Large predatory species that are commonly found here include groupers such as scamp and snowy grouper, red snapper, and amberjack. In deeper areas to the west and south of the Pinnacles, hydrocarbon and brine seeps support chemosynthetic communities that include tube worms and mussels.


Images, additional maps and more information about Pinnacles reefs are available.

Protected Areas

There are no Marine Protected Areas in the Pinnacles region.

Habitats at the Pinnacles

Key Species

Roughtongue Bass Pronotogrammus martinicensis
Red Barbier Hemanthias vivanus
Spanish Flag Gonioplectrus hispanus
Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus
Vermilion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens
Scamp Mycteroperca phenax
Snowy Grouper Epinephelus niveatus
Black Corals Antipatharians

scamp grouper

snowy grouper

Deepwater reef communities form important feeding and spawning habitat for large predators such as scamp grouper (left) and snowy grouper (right). Click images for a larger view.

Interesting Facts about the Pinnacles

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