One of the key goals of the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies since its endowment in 2000 and opening its doors in 2005 was to support and advance the long-term sustainable use and conservation of the Gulf of Mexico (GoMx), through its portal on Gulf of Mexico research resource, GulfBase.org. One of the early HRI projects was the Biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico Project. HRI sponsored a comprehensive biotic inventory of the GoMx, and 140 taxonomic experts from 15 countries compiled a checklist, listing 15,419 species living in the GoMx. The checklist was then published as a book (Felder and Camp, 2009), by Texas A&M University Press.
The book publication was Phase I of the biodiversity project; Phase II, which started before the publication of the book, was the conversion of the checklist into a database to be made freely available online. The distributional data were published through the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) and other biodiversity portals, starting in January 2010. A richer database including all of the information from Felder and Camp (2009) had been in preparation. To increase spatial distribution, the Gulf was divided into eight octants and six depth classes, thus resulting in 48 polygons. Next, each species was restricted, based on distribution, bathymetric range, habitat and biology, to those polygons with potentially suitable habitats within the ranges reported in Felder and Camp (2009).
Besides an updated taxonomy, global and GoMx distribution, the new BioGoMx database provides information on habitat, biology, bathymetric range, conservation status, pertinent scientific references, and endnotes. It also allows queries across taxonomic groups, depth, habitat and other parameters. The results are displayed as a list of species, which can be downloaded as a CSV file (comma-separated value). Clicking on any species on the list links to the species page; each of the over 15,000 species has its own page, with all of the information listed in Felder and Camp (2009). In addition, a map displays the distribution within the GoMx, with the polygons where the species has been recorded highlighted. The database also has links to direct searches on Google, Google Images, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Encyclopedia of Life, and a comment window for users to provide corrections or submit new data, such as new records, or range expansions.
This proposal to NGI made possible the completion of development of the BioGoMx database with analytical tools, and placement on GulfBase to make it widely available to the research community. The new BioGoMx database was launched on March 8, 2011 at: http://gulfbase.org/biogomx. The database may prove useful for ongoing studies on the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the rich fauna and flora of the affected region, including those from the deep Gulf. The book and database represent a pre-oil spill baseline. As results from studies on the impact of the oil spill become available, they can also be incorporated into the database, and flagged as post-spill data.