In an ever-expanding quest to find treatments for diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and inflammatory or infectious diseases, government agencies as well as pharmaceutical companies are turning to the seas. More than 3,500 oil and gas platforms in the northern Gulf of Mexico provide habitats that may harbor marine organisms with pharmaceutical or other commercial usefulness. As collaborators in a project funded in part by the Minerals Management Service, we are continuing our investigations on the macroalgal epiflora of the artificial reefs created by the platform substructures. To determine if harvesting of these algae would be useful or wise, baseline information must be gathered about what organisms inhabit these artificial islands, which, if any, might be useful, and what the relative abundance of such algae is. The first step beyond our previous studies is identifying the algae collected in the spring from the six to eight platforms in our study area on the Louisiana shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. The sampling scheme allows us to investigate near-shore to outer-shelf and along-coast variability as well as the influences of water column and currents. Once we have conducted an initial survey of designated platforms and identified the algae, we hope to be able to answer the question—Are any of the algae known to have biotechnology potential? Subsequent research should help us reach some conclusions about the environmental risks of extracting marine organisms from their steel reefs and answer the question—Is sustainable harvesting possible without disrupting biodiversity and damaging these newly created ecosystems?

Key words: algae, biotechnology, economic botany, gas & oil platforms, Gulf of Mexico, marine algae